+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

Son? There, thou hast four in one frame.
Ulysses had his lotus-eaters, who forgot their
ship and country. There sit four forlorn
ones, minus forty pounds per man! That,
also, is a tale of two days in Rio.


I HAVE lived on the Downs from boyhood
by which I mean the Berkshire Downs, not
those in the Channel; and the period of
juvenescence, not the revolving object that
marks the highway for the shipsand know
every molehill betwixt Marlborough and
Streatley. They form a vast expanse of
undulating grass, interspersed with young
plantations or great patches of gorse, and still
more rarely with a single stunted thorn; a
region where, in moonless nights and chill
November fogs, men have been often lost
and found stone dead days after, though they
themselves were born amidst the wastes, in
some of our small hidden villages which the
well-pleased traveller comes on unawares. In
snow time these mishaps are very frequent; a
score of places all about, are shown, where the
starved tinker lay for days in the deep drift,
and where the winding-sheet wrapt round
the Swindon carrier; and always in the turf
a long green cross is dug for In memoriam.
But, in the summer, these bleak and windy
Downs are paradise to butterfly and bee, and
all who love sweet savours and soft airs;
they slope up from the broad rich counties
underneath; and all along the verge, for many
miles, the prospect is most fair. The teeming
fields that fringe the banks of the Thames are
thickly set, on either side, with halls and
pleasant parks; the oldest churches in the
land are there, with towers and steeples gray,
and gaudy vanes above them, glimmering
amidst the belts of wood like stars. ' See,
from this heathy knoll lies Alfred's birth-place,
westward; and further to the right,
old Abingdon; beyond which, hidden by the
hill, is Oxford, a great crowd of towers and

Still more to westward, and beneath us
still, ran the old Roman road, the highway
once perhaps of Caesar's legions; from here the
startled herdsman might have marked their
burnished eagles, and spear and helmet
flashing back the sun. Upon our Downs, too, there
are yet huge camps, miles round, with difficult
fosse and rampart trebly piled, where Dane
and Saxon struggled for the isle; and high-built
barrows, lofty mounds of green, the
burial-places for the victors' bones: we dig
themimpious workfrom time to time, and
find old swords and armour, Roman coins,
and bits of what, maybe, were. Roman noses;
and over all now dance the little fays, or
seem to dance, in many a verdant ring, and
bloom the gay down-flowers, red and blue;
the shepherd's thyme, too, and the shepherd's
weatherglass, that opens to the sun and shuts
to rain. The spreading mushroom loves our
Downs the best of all; the tufted plover
pipes along our leas; the quail, though not in
such great flocks as Israel saw, the dottrel,
the moor buzzard, have their haunts amongst
us, and the kite with hovering wings.

Along the summit of our range a level road
of grass runs, banked on either side, for thirty
milesthe British ridgeway that once led
from Streatley, the chief town of the Atrebatii,
to their great temple at Stonehenge: it
passes by the high Cuckhamsley Hill that
crowns the Downsa lonely barren place
(save for a young plantation) where once was
a vast market held, until King James the
First, to benefit a favourite lord, removed it
to the town four miles away, in those good
old Protectionist times of his. On these
same Downs the Cross of Christ was planted
first in England; under this same hill,
King Cwichelm, our first Christian king,
was buried. Beside the hill, and parallel to
the ridgewayalong which now, instead of
naked Britons, pass huge droves of cattle out
of Wales to the Saltmarshesthere runs the
Devil's Ditch; it is but five feet broad, and
for what purpose made, except to mark the
boundary of neighbour states, we cannot
guess; but the people ascribe it to his Satanic
majesty, who dug it in one night for twenty
miles, and afterwards, scraped his spade upon
the summit of the Downs, whence rose
Cuckhamsley. So we have enough to think
of hereBritons, Danes, Saxons, Romans,
Christianity, and the Devil: and moreover,
in the level bottom eastward, Cromwell
encamped after the field of Newbury, and the
next night the Loyalists occupied his ground.
King Charles took up his quarters by the Ye,
in this our own dear village, and supped, I
doubt not well, with Bishop Goodman. Save
for these wondrous memories of theirs, our
Downs were little else but pasturage for
sheep until the last half century. At Ilsley,
eighty thousand sheep have in one day been
penned, and for two days before its market
all the air is white with dust and loud with.
barks and bleats, and every wayside hedge is
fringed with wool. We ourselves, indeed
the inhabitantswere almost unknown to
the general public before that time; two or
three musty antiquarian societies, and that
small portion of the sporting world that
affects coursingfor nowhere is such coursing
as with usheld us in praise and honour;
but it was reserved for the present century
to thrust upon us greatness and publicity,
and make us in return (you may be sure) a
source of very considerable prolit. Our Downs
are now, in fact, the haunt of what Bell's
Life calls the Fraternity, .and what people
generally call the Betting Ring. They are in the
hands of the hon. the members of the Jockey
Club, of the owners of racehorses and of
their administrators and assignswhich
obviates using disagreeable expressionsthe
private and public trainers, studgrooms,
stableboys, and touts. The Downs, indeed,