Billeder på siden

March, 1603.

it was then considered) of 1602, i. e. on the 24th of Cary, though lying under the general embargo and interdict of the Privy Council, contrived to slip out of the palace, through the favor of his brother, a great officer of the Royal household. On the 1st day of 1603, that is (as we should now call it) on Lady-day, or March 25 of 1603, at ten o'clock in the morning, he mounted at London, and, on the following day, notwithstanding all delays, and that he was very seriously retarded both by public business on the Border, (where he held a great command,) and having been thrown violently from his horse, he contrived to reach the Scottish capital by the King's bed-time. Altogether he was not more than thirty-three or thirty-four hours in traversing a road, at that time not at all short of four hundred and fifty miles. This story we learn from Lord Monmouth's own memoirs. Yet we must not forget that the particular road concerned in this exploit was the Great North Road, (as it is still called by way of distinction,) lying through Doncaster and York, between the northern and southern capitals of the island. But roads less frequented were tolerable as bridle roads; whilst all alike, having been originally laid down with no view to the broad and ample coaches, from 1570 to 1700, scratched the panels on each side as they crept along. Even in the nineteenth century I have known a case, but of course in a sequestered district of England, where a post-chaise, of the common narrow dimensions, was obliged to retrace its route of fourteen miles, on coming to a bridge built in some remote age, when, as yet, post-chaises were neither known nor anticipated, and, unfortunately, too narrow by three or four inches. In all the provinces of England, when the soil was deep and adhesive, a worse evil beset the stately equipage. An Italian of rank, who has left a record of

his perilous adventure, visited, or attempted to visit, Petworth, near London, (then a seat of the Percys, now of Lord Egremont,) about the year 1685. I forget how many times he was overturned within one particular stretch of five miles; but I remember that it was a subject of gratitude, (and, upon meditating a return by the same route, a subject of pleasing hope,) to dwell upon the soft lying which was to be found in that good-natured morass. Yet this was, doubtless, a pet road, (vile punster! dream not that I glance at Petworth,) and an improved road. Such as this, I have good reason to think, were most of the roads in England, unless upon the rocky strata which stretch northwards from Derbyshire to Cumberland and Northumberland. The public carriages were the first harbingers of a change for the better; as these grew and prospered, slender lines of improvement began to vein and streak the map. And Parliament began to show their zeal, though not always a corresponding knowledge, by legislating backwards and forwards on the breadth of wagon wheel-tires, &c. But not until our cotton system began to put forth blossoms not until our trade and our steam engines began to stimulate the coal mines, which, in their turn, stimulated them, did any great energy apply itself to our roads. In my childhood, standing with one or two of my brothers and sisters at the front windows of my mother's carriage, I remember one unvarying set of images before us. The postilion (for so were all carriages then driven) was employed, not by fits and starts, but always and eternally, in quartering, i. e. in crossing from side to side, according to the casualties of the ground. Before you stretched a wintry length of lane, with ruts deep enough to fracture the leg of a horse, filled to the brim with standing pools of rain water; and the collateral chambers of these ruts kept from becoming

[ocr errors]

confluent by thin ridges, such as the Romans called lira, to maintain the footing upon which lira, so as not to swerve, (or, as the Romans would say, delirare,) was a trial of some skill both for the horses and their postilion. It was, indeed, next to impossible for any horse, on such a narrow crust of separation, not to grow delirious in the Roman metaphor; and the nervous anxiety which haunted me when a child, was much fed by this very image so often before my eye, and the sympathy with which I followed the motion of the docile creature's legs. Go to sleep at the beginning of a stage, and the last thing you saw was the line of wintry pools, the poor off-horse planting his steps with care, and the cautious postilion gently applying his spur, whilst manoeuvring across his system of grooves with some sort of science that looked like a gipsy's palmistry; so equally unintelligible to me were his motions, in what he sought and in what he avoided.

Whilst reverting to these remembrances of my childhood, I may add, by way of illustration, and at the risk of gossipping, a brief notice of my very first journey. I might be then seven years old. A young gentleman, the son of a wealthy banker, had to return home for the Christmas holidays to a town in Lincolnshire, distant from the public school, where he was pursuing his education, about a hundred miles. This school was in the neighborhood of G-nh-y, my father's house. There were at that time no coaches in that direction; now there are many every day. The young gentleman advertised for a person to share the expense of a post-chaise. By accident, or chiefly, I believe, out of compliment to the gentleness of my manners, and the depth of my affections, I had an invitation of some standing to the same town, where I happened to have a female relation of mature age, besides some youthful cousins. The two travellers elect soon heard of each

other, and the arrangement was easily completed. It was my earliest migration from the paternal (or as I ought then to call it, the maternal) roof; and the anxieties of pleasure, too tumultuous, with some slight sense of undefined fears, combined to agitate my childish feelings. I had a vague slight apprehension of my fellow-traveller, whom I had never seen, and whom my nursery-maid, when dressing me, had described in no very amiable colors. But a good deal more I thought of Sherwood Forest, which, as I had been told, we should cross after the night set in. At six o'clock I descended, and not, as usual, to the children's room, but, on this special morning of my life, to a room called the breakfast-room; where I found a blazing fire, candles lighted, and the whole breakfast equipage, as if for my mother, set out, to my astonishment, for no greater personage than myself. The scene being in England, and on a December morning, I need scarcely say that it rained; the rain beat violently against the windows, the wind raved; and an aged servant, who did the honors of the breakfast table, pressed me urgently and often to eat. I need not say that I had no appetite the fulness of my heart, both from busy anticipation, and from the parting which was at hand, had made me incapable of any other thought, or feeling, or attention, but such as pointed to the coming journey. All circumstances in travelling, all scenes and situations of a representative and recurring character, are indescribably affecting, connected, as they have been, in so many myriads of minds, more especially in a land which is sending off for ever its flowers and blossoms to a clime so remote as that of India, with heart-rending separations, and with farewells never to be repeated. But amongst them all none cleaves to my own feelings so indelibly, from having repeatedly been concerned, either as witness, or as

a principal party in its little drama, as the early breakfast, on a wintry morning, long before the darkness has given way, when the golden blaze of the hearth, and the bright glitter of candles, with female ministrations of gentleness more touching than on common occasions, all conspire to rekindle, as it were for a farewell gleam, the holy memorials of household affections. And many have, doubtless, had my feelings; for, I believe few readers will ever forget the beautiful manner in which Mrs. Inchbald has treated such a scene in the winding-up of the first part of her Simple Story,' and the power with which she has invested it.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Thirty-nine, or possibly, I believe, even forty years, have passed since that December morning in my own life to which I am now recurring, and yet, even to this moment, I recollect the audible throbbing of heart, the leap and rushing of blood, with which, during a deep lull of the wind, the aged attendant said, without hurry or agitation, but with something of a solemn tone, That is the sound of wheels. I hear the chaise. Mr. H-1 will be here directly.' The road ran, for some distance, by a course pretty nearly equidistant from the house, so that the groaning of the wheels continued to catch the ear, as it swelled upon the wind, for some time without much alteration. At length a right-angled turn brought the road continually and rapidly nearer to the gates of the grounds, which had purposely been thrown open. At this point, however, a long career of raving arose; all other sounds were lost; and, for some time, I began to think we had been mistaken, when suddenly the loud trampling of horses' feet, as they whirled up the sweep below the windows, followed by a peal long and loud upon the bell, announced, beyond question, the summons for my departure. The door being thrown open, steps were heard

« ForrigeFortsæt »