"It is a long time since you have been in this country, I believe?"
We know well enough how great stones--pillars and obelisks--are brought into place by means of our modern appliances. But if the great blocks were raised by a mob of naked Picts, or any tribe that knew none of the mechanical powers but the lever, how did they set them up and lay the cross-stones, the imposts, upon the uprights? It is pleasant, once in a while, to think how we should have managed any such matters as this if left to our natural resources. We are all interested in the make-shifts of Robinson Crusoe. Now the rudest tribes make cords of some kind, and the earliest, or almost the earliest, of artificial structures is an earth-mound. If a hundred, or hundreds, of men could drag the huge stones many leagues, as they must have done to bring them to their destined place, they could have drawn each of them up a long slanting mound ending in a sharp declivity, with a hole for the foot of the stone at its base. If the stone were now tipped over, it would slide into its place, and could be easily raised from its slanting position to the perpendicular. Then filling in the space between the mound and two contiguous stones, the impost could be dragged up to its position. I found a pleasure in working at this simple mechanical problem, as a change from the more imaginative thoughts suggested by the mysterious monuments.
After this Sir James Paget called, and took me to a small and early dinner-party; and A---- went with my secretary, the young lady of whom I have spoken, to see "Human Nature," at Drury Lane Theatre.
Ah! que ce rude et dur guerrier
"A mystery, as are you that gaze.
In the following section I shall give some of the general impressions which this excursion has left in my memory, and a few suggestions derived from them.
This would be hard to understand except for the explanation which the local antiquarians give us of its significance. The Wiltshire Avon flows by or through the town, which is drained by brooks that run through its streets. These, which used to be open, are now covered over, and thus the epitaph becomes somewhat puzzling, as there is nothing to remind one of Venice in walking about the town.
In the Introduction to these papers, I mentioned the fact that more than half a century ago I went to the famous Derby race at Epsom. I determined, if possible, to see the Derby of 1886, as I had seen that of 1834. I must have spoken of this intention to some interviewer, for I find the following paragraph in an English sporting newspaper, "The Field," for May 29th, 1886:--
It was no sooner announced in the papers that I was going to England than I began to hear of preparations to welcome me. An invitation to a club meeting was cabled across the Atlantic. One of my countrywomen who has a house in London made an engagement for me to meet friends at her residence. A reverend friend, who thought I had certain projects in my head, wrote to me about lecturing: where I should appear, what fees I should obtain, and such business matters. I replied that I was going to England to spend money, not to make it; to hear speeches, very possibly, but not to make them; to revisit scenes I had known in my younger days; to get a little change of my routine, which I certainly did; and to enjoy a little rest, which I as certainly did not, at least in London. In a word, I wished a short vacation, and had no thought of doing anything more important than rubbing a little rust off and enjoying myself, while at the same time I could make my companion's visit somewhat pleasanter than it would be if she went without me. The visit has answered most of its purposes for both of us, and if we have saved a few recollections which our friends can take any pleasure in reading, this slight record may be considered a work of supererogation.
On the afternoon of July 6th, our hosts had a large garden-party. If nothing is more trying than one of these out-of-door meetings on a cold, windy, damp day, nothing can be more delightful than such a social gathering if the place and the weather are just what we could wish them. The garden-party of this afternoon was as near perfection as such a meeting could well be. The day was bright and warm, but not uncomfortably hot, to me, at least. The company strolled about the grounds, or rested on the piazzas, or watched the birds in the aviary, or studied rudimentary humanity in the monkey, or, better still, in a charming baby, for the first time on exhibition since she made the acquaintance of sunshine. Every one could dispose of himself or herself as fancy might suggest. I broke away at one time, and wandered alone by the side of the Avon, under the shadow of the tall trees upon its bank. The whole scene was as poetical, as inspiring, as any that I remember. It would be easy to write verses about it, but unwritten poems are so much better!
A breakfast, a lunch, a tea, is a circumstance, an occurrence, in social life, but a dinner is an event. It is the full-blown flower of that cultivated growth of which those lesser products are the buds. I will not try to enumerate, still less to describe, the various entertainments to which we were invited, and many of which we attended. Among the professional friends I found or made during this visit to London, none were more kindly attentive than Dr. Priestley, who, with his charming wife, the daughter of the late Robert Chambers, took more pains to carry out our wishes than we could have asked or hoped for. At his house I first met Sir James Paget and Sir William Gull, long well known to me, as to the medical profession everywhere, as pre?minent in their several departments. If I were an interviewer or a newspaper reporter, I should be tempted to give the impression which the men and women of distinction I met made upon me; but where all were cordial, where all made me feel as nearly as they could that I belonged where I found myself, whether the ceiling were a low or a lofty one, I do not care to differentiate my hosts and my other friends. Fortemque Gyan fortemque Cloanthum, --I left my microscope and my test-papers at home.
I was surprised to find the trees in the Bois de Boulogne so well grown: I had an idea that they had been largely sacrificed in the time of the siege. Among the objects which deserve special mention are the shrieking parrots and other birds and the yelping dogs in the grounds of the Society of Acclimatization,--out of the range of which the visitor will be glad to get as soon as possible. A fountain visited by newly married couples and their friends, with a restaurant near by, where the bridal party drink the health of the newly married pair, was an object of curiosity. An unsteadiness of gait was obvious in some of the feasters. At one point in the middle of the road a maenad was flinging her arms about and shrieking as if she were just escaped from a madhouse. But the drive in the Bois was what made Paris tolerable. There were few fine equipages, and few distinguished-looking people in the carriages, but there were quiet groups by the wayside, seeming happy enough; and now and then a pretty face or a wonderful bonnet gave variety to the somewhat bourgeois character of the procession of fiacres.
In my previous visit to Edinburgh in 1834, I was fond of rambling along under Salisbury Crags, and climbing the sides of Arthur's Seat. I had neither time nor impulse for such walks during this visit, but in driving out to dine at Nidrie, the fine old place now lived in by Mr. Barclay and his daughters, we passed under the crags and by the side of the great hill. I had never heard, or if I had I had forgotten, the name and the story of "Samson's Ribs." These are the columnar masses of rock which form the face of Salisbury Crags. There is a legend that one day one of these pillars will fall and crush the greatest man that ever passes under them. It is said that a certain professor was always very shy of "Samson's Ribs," for fear the prophecy might be fulfilled in his person. We were most hospitably received at Mr. Barclay's, and the presence of his accomplished and pleasing daughters made the visit memorable to both of us. There was one picture on their walls, that of a lady, by Sir Joshua, which both of us found very captivating. This is what is often happening in the visits we make. Some painting by a master looks down upon us from its old canvas, and leaves a lasting copy of itself, to be stored in memory's picture gallery. These surprises are not so likely to happen in the New World as in the Old.