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COUNTRY LIFE IN ENGLAND. A Letter from Mons. le Vicomte de 1- to Mons. C. de V- -, in Paris.
From the French MS. It has been often remarked by travellers, that nothing is known of the English till they are seen in their true element, (as their James I. used to call it,) in the country—in those mansions, parks, gardens, parsonages, and cottages, which gem the beautiful surface of their isle, and anrounce at once the independence, and the affluence, and the taste of its inhabitants. You may imagine, therefore, that I joyfully availed myself of an opportunity which offered of observing their country life, by accepting an invitation from Sir C——-. B(whom you remember at Paris) to pass a week at his seat in the county of E- -, about seven leagues from London. The family is among the most respectable and ancient of the English gentry ;-a class of admirable worth and most important influence in the country. We have nothing corresponding to them exactly: well would it be for France if we had. They are the connecting link between the high aristocracy and the mere commoner-their root deeply embedded in the healthy soil of the people—their branches shading and ornamenting proudly the higher institutions of the country, and often affording protection and appui to the throne itself. They are not poor and proud barons and marquises, with barren titles, pensions from the civil list, and privileges enjoyed at the expense of trade and of husbandry; but independent gentlemen, unpaid and active magistrates, diligent members of parliament, zealous promoters of county and local interests, hunters without oppression, friends of the poor, patrons of the church. The ancestors of my friend Sir C. B. have represented their county in Parliament twenty-five times within two hundred years; and the present head of the family only lately retired, from a desire of repose, and because he left his seat to a firm friend of his own principles. The family mansion stands at one end of a noble park, full of fine timber, planted by his great grandfather. The park is contiguous to the old and venerable forests of E-- and H- whose oaks are as ancient as the Conqueror, and of which my friend Sir C. is one of the Verderors, or keepers. The forests of England were, like those of France, originally places of regal pastime, set apart by royal Nimrods many centuries ago, with tyrannical disregard of the property and rights of the tenants of the soil. But as the free spirit of the boasted English Common Law has prevailed over the arbitrary customs of the Forest Codes—as property has become more valuable, and secured by laws better ascertained—as wolves and bears have been extirpated, and even stags and foxes are less in vogue than formerly, the royal authority over the forests has become little more than nominal ; the real guardianship of them has fallen into the hands of the neighbouring Seigneurs and 'Squires, who, either by permission of the Crown or by continued encroachments on its prerogatives, have acquired the whole benefit and property in the few rights of forest which are still existing. In the forest of E-- the Verderors (keepers of the tert-greensward) are even elected by the freeholders of the district, in the same manner as Justices of the peace formerly were, and as Members of Parliament now are, or ought to be, according to and VOL. V. NO. XXII.
In fact, the oppressive pageantry of the Royal Hunt has long been disused in England-George III. used to follow his stag-hounds like a plain country-squire—and the King of England could not shew his magnificent brother of W -g, when in this country, a single spot where he could trample on his peasant's harvest, and drive boars over his vineyards, in the true style of the German potentate. Their chief purpose being thus at an end, the forests have decreased in extent and grandeur much more rapidly than ours in France; where, to say nothing of other causes, the Grand Veneur and master of the royal hunt still hold a splendid rank among the ancient ornaments of the monarchy. If you were not such a fervent admirer of the vieille cour and all its systems, you might agree with me that a free English forest is all the pleasanter and the more lovely from the absence of all associations of barbarous slavery and oppressive ferocity in its green glades and lovely wildernesses. Oppression has, in fact, no more place in these sylvan retirements than in the umbrageous wilds of wooded America, where man walks abroad in all that unfettered energy of spirit to which your friend, M. de C, might reconcile even you by his eloquence. But enough of politics, whether du droit, or du gauche, or du
I found on my arrival the family of the park, and the neighbouring gentlemen, busy in discussing and preparing for a sort of fête champêtre under their venerable forest oaks. The young ladies and young men were in a bustle, inviting friends, ordering music, planning arrangements, appointing a patroness or queen of the day, and joyfully anticipating this rendezvous of rural festivity. The idea pleased me much : it was national and appropriate, and the execution was in every way worthy of it. The custom, I learnt, was anmual, having been established only a few years. The zeal and energy, and good humour with which every one took a part in the preparatory operations, were highly amusing. One lady made flowers and bouquets-another learnt hunting-airs to play on the guitar-grave members of parliament and clergymen were riding about ordering a band, selecting a spot for the fête, writing to London for a celebrated French-horn player, arranging a programme of the proceedings, and settling the contributions of viands, fruits, wines, &c. which each family should contribute. At about one o'clock on the day appointed, the family coaches of the neighbouring squires, filled with laughing and happy young girls, and prudent mothers, and chaperones, might be seen moving towards the happy spot-a lovely and shady glade at the foot of a bold hill in the thick of the forest. This hill commanded a prospect of unrivalled beauty, down the course of the broad and glittering Thames, and over the green and distant hills of Surrey and Kent. We have no such prospect in France ; none so varied, so green, so cultivated, and so refreshing. This forest is equally unlike any of ours. Fontainebleau is more imposing, more magnificent, and more triste. St. Germain is dulness and monotony itself to this varied and riant greenwood, where the deer trip merrily through the thickets, disturbed by no royal piqueurs, where the paths wind beautifully in artless labyrinths, and every variety of bower and thicket invites the wanderer with its natural and luxuriant freshness. The trees, however, are not to be compared to the stately grandeur of our oaks and beeches at Fontainebleau; and the pines of the Jura are wanting. The party met on the brow of the hill ; and after enjoying the prospect, the gentlemen handed the ladies down the green slope to the valley below, with that arrangement and decorum which accompany even pleasures in England. Proceeding down the thicket, a vast long table appeared through the trees, tastefully spread with cold viands of great delicacy and variety, fruits, flowers, wine, plate, china, glittering like a feast in a pantomime, with all the abundance of Ceres' and Pomona's gifts. A few dames and caraliers who had arrived early, were already scattered about in gay summer dresses under the trees. A tent was pitched to the left for the kitchen ; a kettle was boiling on two sticks à l'Egyptienne, the smoke curling up among the green boughs. The chariots and coaches were drawn up at a little distance. A piano-forte stood near the table, and Signor P-with his Frenchhorn blew a welcome as the party arrived. The lady patroness-la presidente-a young and pretty wife of one of the neighbouring gentlemen, took her seat : her spouse headed the table. The King was drunk with three times three, and acclamations of English loyalty made the greenwood ring. The whole scene was a picture for Hobbima, Mieris, or our Le Sueur-except that the last would have found no aquilinenosed monarch to simper amorously at the rural goddesses. The gay and various-coloured dresses, the graceful figures and smiling faces, the glittering table, the groups of rural spectators, the liveried servants, the smoking fire, the tent, and the leafy canopy waving its embowering shades over all, gave the whole the air of a fairy dream. It was Shakspeare's Midsummer Night's Dream realized, without his gatimatias and monsters— Titania without her ass-Oberon and his queen in high good-humour, and revelling with a full court in light and innocent festivity. The dinner or collation was excellent--by no means, though rustic, like the feast of Baucis-
Le linge orné de fleurs fut couvert pour tous mêts
de lait, de fruits, et des dons de Cères. About forty persons sat down. The wines were admirable ; and the fruits almost equal to those of the Boulevards. Except the circumstance of the viands being cold, no ingredient of an excellent English dinner was wanting. Indeed the only fault perhaps was, that there was too much of recherche and preparation, which gave some idea of ceremony; but in England dinner, you know, is never an affair of chance. Not that the English are greater gourmands than we are : the contrary. I believe, is the fact; but it is a part of the domestic sociability and union of their habits to make every meal a rendezvous for the scattered members of the family-and this gives a certain air of ceremony and preparation to all meals. Breakfast, I find, is also an affair of form in a large country-house of the genuine English stamp. Round the hissing urn assemble all the fresh and gay morning faces of the household ; the pleasures of the preceding evening, or the plans of the present day, are discussed and arranged over smoking vases of tea and delicate parallelograms of toast. In some modern great houses it is indeed the fashion for Milord to drink his coffee in his library, and Miladi sips chocolate in her boudoir ; while the young ladies lo over a novel with their green tea by their bed-sides.
“ Belinda still her downy pillow prest,
Visitors in the house are thus left to themselves till noon or dinner-time. You walk in the morning into a dreary deserted breakfast-room-the old bounds and parlour-dogs being the only inmates of the family who are stirring to give you a welcome. One visitor rings the bell for breakfast at one hour, another at another. This is adopted a good deal from us French. It is more convenient for those who have business or studies to attend to, and it suits well that morbid class of persons who like their own solitary thoughts, and also professed wits, who, being expected to play a brilliant part at the dinner-table, like to refresh their spirits, and gather up their bon-mots and anecdotes for the exhibition of the coming evening. But it is less comfortable, less sociable, less hospitable than the genuine old English breakfast; and though, as you know, I am Purisien de fond en comble, I yet like the English best when they are most national and least French. Mais voila un episode!
Dinner being concluded, some of the ladies joined with Signor P.'s horn in making a pleasing concert, while a few country-dances were executed with all the lightness and grace of the “ moonlight elves" and fays who may be supposed to revel in these green shades. As the evening came on, an invitation was given by Lady B. to adjourn to the Park. This was readily accepted by the majority of the party. Coaches, chariots, and tilburies were instantly filled with fair forms and gallant cavaliers, and the cavalcade moved to the park. The carpet in the grand salon was presently removed, the tables, couches, and ottomaris displaced, and quadrilles commenced with all the energy which English damsels, you know, display in all their movements. Both young men and maidens are now, you know, accomplished dancers quite à la Parisienne-- thanks to some of our artistes who came over in the train of King Quadrille. It is surprising how well the undulations of our elegant dance suit the stately forms of these fine Anglaises : elles sont les vraies Dianes de la danse. They dance with sentiment and poetry—not like figurantes du Grand Opera. They have not the natural lightness and exquisite coquetry of our demoiselles—but they have a capacity which seizes every thing, and lays hold of the spirit of every accomplishment: they learn to dance, as they learn to ride, to play, to sing, to speak Italian-by rule and principle,-and they are mistresses of the dance as they are of languages, au
fond, and with a completeness and finish which is unequalled. In short, they mix up this mechanical accomplishment with the sentiment and intellect which pervade their characters. Besides, Englishwomen and Englishmen, to be happy and agreeable in society, must have un but-they must have quelque chose à faire--they are awkward faineans, and cannot talk eloquently about nothing. A quadrille, a waltz, a book, a game at cards, are necessary to exclude ennui. Leave them entirely to their own resources, and nine societies out of ten would (or ought to) acknowledge they were dreadfully ennuié-bored (as their phrase is). I hardly know a coterie of English with whom one could enjoy those delightful promenades of indolence and mirth which we used to enjoy with Madame la Comtesse de C
Mons. de A--n, Madame de L- and the Marquis de V
e, in the Bosquets of St. Cloud and Trianon-when we drove down in calêches or rode on horseback, the carriage stocked with a few peaches and gateaur—nothing to do-nothing new. to see-every flower and avenue known by heart to us all ; no books, no wits, no lions, and, what is more singular, no liaisons ; but our unadorned selves in high spirits, with a quick and keen enjoyment of conversation ; fine eyes full of pleasure, without either sentiment or triumph--enjouement without aim; and gaiety without effort. But the English require getting up to be happy; they must be stimulated by something which rouses some feeling or some talent: they are such people of mind and of sentiment, that they know no enjoyment unless interested by something : they know nothing of the spontaneous sparkling pleasure of spirits which bound only because nothing depresses them; they must have a reason to be gay ;--we require a reason to be sad. En un mot, ils satent jouir, mais ils ne sarent pas s'amuser. “ Mais plus de metaphysique," you exclaim. We kept up waltzes and quadrilles with great spirit and determination till near midnight, when the party separated, and the carriages soon drove away. I went to my room, and enjoyed a lovely moon streaming over the basin in the park, and pouring its masses of pale light through the shades of the shrubbery. You see I am turned quite a Celadon among these nymphs. You will tell me, “ Never again say the English are not gay, after such a day as you describe.". "Nothey are happy---never guy;" lequel des deux vaut mieux, c'est à vous à décider. I am delighted with this rural life;
Flore, Echo, les Zephyrs et leurs molles haleines,
Le verd tapis des près, et l'argent des fontaines not the less agreeable, by the way, for being à sept lieues de la cupitale. I will write again when I have any thing to describe, and nothing to do.
From the German of Goëthe.
He saw the blooming flower.
Thy rash design give o'er."
To quell the urchin's power.