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which a farmhouse never seems complete-are no longer needful now that the corn is quickly thrashed by steam; the capital, too, that is required in the present day to stock and work an extensive holding (which only can support such a capacious home and its time-honoured surroundings) is considerable; for unless the land is scientifically cultivated, and the latest improved agricultural instruments are employed, the modern farmer cannot hold his own under the changed conditions of competition caused by the opening up of new lands abroad, combined with the rapid and cheap conveyance by steam, which has practically brought these new lands to our own doors. The past order of things, the old-fashioned method of farming, the conservative rotation of crops, that paid fifty years ago, will not pay now.
What will the farm of the future be like, and what manner of man will the coming farmer be? Agricultural affairs are in a state of transition, the change that is approaching, though certain, is so gradual, that it is almost impossible to anticipate.
Where all is vague, one thing alone seems sure, namely, that the change will be intensely practical; when money-making is concerned all æsthetic ideas must inevitably go to the wall, the picturesque past will have to give way to the necessities of the prosaic present. Progress and beauty in these times seem ever at enmity, science and machinery are but too surely robbing us of the poetry of husbandry.
Much that is picturesque in farm life is unhappily rapidly disappearing, agricultural operations are becoming more and more mechanical, the labourer
is, in a measure, being converted into an engineer. As the smoke-begrimed engine-driver and fussy locomotive have taken the place of the jovial Jehu and the cheery coach, in like manner the steam-plough or cultivator (the most ungainly product of man's brain) is taking the place of the old-fashioned team of our forefathers; the slow flail, after existing for centuries unchanged, has been superseded by the speedy steam-thrasher; mowing and reaping machines in turn are monopolising the work of the graceful mower and the romantic reaper, and, sadder still, even the fragrant hayfield is threatened by the scientific silo, and withal the farmer is no better off (in truth, he grumbles more than ever), beauty is surely disappearing, and no one seems to be benefited.
What will the future poet and painter do with the country life that is to be? It is hard to grow sentimental over puffing steam-engines and unsightly machinery; it is harder still to paint such things into pictures; yet when they have become part and parcel of the rural economy of the land they cannot be ignored.
The factory-like puffing of steam-thrashers and steam-ploughs, the unmelodious rattle, rattle, rattle of mowing and reaping machines (as ear-irritating as eye-displeasing) seem wholly out of place in the peaceful uncommercial country, and rob it of its charming, rest-bestowing quietude. Nowadays discordant noises but too often take the place of pleasant rural sounds, for it must be remembered that there is a wide distinction between noise and sound. The sounds one hears in the country-the songs of birds,
the gurgling and plashing of water, the gentle rustling of the leaves of windblown trees, the soft murmur of standing corn just stirred by the breeze, the bleating of sheep, the lowing of cattle, are all soothing to the ear; indeed they serve as a foil to accentuate the general quietness, to make the stillness more profound; but the busy, fussy, clattering and harsh din of machinery is the very antithesis of reposefulness, steam and machinery seem wholly out of place in the green meadows and pleasant country fields.
I think that on no stage of our drive were we so impressed as on this with the wonderful variety of colour we observed on every hand, not only of flowers, both wild and garden-grown, but of the fields, and trees, and hedgerows; the old buildings, too, with their time-tinted walls and lichen-laden roofs, delighted us, the rich warm red hue of the tiles contrasting charmingly with the cool greens around. The may was out late, and so this June we saw it in all its fragrant freshness and fulness; the chestnut trees were doing their best to rival the may, and the many creepers of various kinds that seemed to have their home and flourish on every bit of old building abounded in blossoms of yellow and red, of white and purple; familiar by sight most of these, though some were strange, but of the names of the majority I must, to my shame, confess my scandalous ignorance. Fortunately, however, beauty does not depend upon nomenclature, and my sad want of botanical knowledge did in no measure deprive me of the full enjoyment of their loveliness.
The little cottage gardens by the way, how gay
they looked with their bright homely flowersdearer far to me from old association and long familiarity than the rarest productions of the rich man's greenhouse. I am not of those who despise a flower because it is common; a wild primrose nestles nearer to my heart than does the aristocratic rose, beautiful and sweet of perfume though the latter be.
The landscape, too, was full of colour, the meadows were golden and silver with buttercups and daisies, here and there we noticed fields splashed with the glowing yellow of wild mustard, others were crimson with blossoming clover, the dainty green of the young corn enhanced the showy scarlet of the wild poppy, and in the tangled hedgerows we saw now and again the harmless gold of the everblooming gorse mingled in a rare harmony with other plants and countless many-tinted wild flowers that thrive, uncared for and unheeded, by the dusty wayside. It was all sunshine and cheerful colouring, and yet there are to be found people who live in less favoured spots in the world, who boldly assert that England is a dull, dispiriting, colourless land, a land all of greys and greens, with sad skies and little sunshine. Surely there are some who are wilfully blind! I pity the man who can travel through rural England and see nothing but dull greens and sombre greys. As for sunshine, well, I must own that perhaps we could do with more of it, though personally I love our English cloud-decked sky and would not exchange it for one of Italian blue, with nothing to vary its monotonous serenity save the sun in its daily round. To those who have ever
THE SIGN OF THE WHITE HART.
studied it, the scenery of cloud-land is no less lovely and diversified than scenery terrestrial. It is infinitely changeful and full of interest, but who regards the sky above, that is free to all, and whose beauties cost nothing to behold save an upward glance?
Witham we found to be a pleasant neat little town, much to-day as it was in the old coaching times, unaltered, unimproved, delightfully unprogressive; a compact place, not straggling about purposelessly as so many provincial towns have a way of doing. As we drove along we were attracted to the White Hart Inn by its inviting outside appearance, which spoke as it were а welcome, nor were we disappointed in our expectations. Inns have their characteristic features as well as human beings, and the experienced traveller is seldom deceived who trusts to their general external look. We found at the White Hartwhich, by the way, still retains on its front the old legend, ‘post horses'—a most obliging landlord and a civil motherly landlady, and we were made very comfortable at this homely hostel. In our little sitting-room we observed that a bell-pull hung from the ceiling just over the table, a convenient arrangement that still obtains at some old-fashioned houses, permitting the traveller to ring for anything without having to get up from his seat.
The sign-board of our inn was uncommon in one respect; it had a representation of a white hart, painted and with gilded collar and chain, the animal being cut out so that its contour showed