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“Upon the midlands now the industrious muse doth fall,
The shires which we the heart of England well may call.
My native country thou, which so brave spirits hast bred,
DRAYTON : Polyolbion.
G E O R G E E LI O T
FELIX HOLT, THE RADICAL
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
EDINBURGH AND LONDON
All Rights reserved
F E L I X
FIVE-AND-THIRTY years ago the glory had not yet departed from the old coach-roads : the great roadside inns were still brilliant with well-polished tankards, the smiling glances of pretty barmaids, and the repartees of jocose ostlers; the mail still announced itself by the merry notes of the horn; the hedgecutter or the rick-thatcher might still know the exact hour by the unfailing yet otherwise meteoric apparition of the pea-green Tally-ho or the yellow Independent; and elderly gentlemen in pony-chaises, quartering nervously to make way for the rolling swinging swiftness, had not ceased to remark that times were finely changed since they used to see the pack-horses and hear the tinkling of their bells on this very highway.
In those days there were pocket boroughs, a Birmingham unrepresented in Parliament and comVOL. I.
pelled to make strong representations out of it, unrepealed corn-laws, three-and-sixpenny letters, a brawny and many-breeding pauperism, and other departed evils; but there were some pleasant things too, which have also departed. Non omnia grandior ætas quæ fugiamus habet, says the wise goddess : you have not the best of it in all things, O youngsters ! the elderly man has his enviable memories, and not the least of them is the memory of a long journey in mid-spring or autumn on the outside of a stagecoach. Posterity may be shot, like a bullet through a tube, by atmospheric pressure from Winchester to Newcastle : that is a fine result to have among our hopes; but the slow old-fashioned way of getting from one end of our country to the other is the better thing to have in the memory. The tubejourney can never lend much to picture and narrative; it is as barren as an exclamatory 0! Whereas the happy outside passenger seated on the box from the dawn to the gloaming gathered enough stories of English life, enough of English labours in town and country, enough aspects of earth and sky, to make episodes for a modern Odyssey. Suppose only that his journey took him through that central plain, watered at one extremity by the Avon, at the other by the Trent. As the morning silvered the meadows with their long lines of bushy willows marking the watercourses, or burnished the golden corn-ricks clustered near the long roofs of some midland homestead, he saw the full-uddered cows driven from their pasture to the early milking. Perhaps it was the shepherd, head-servant of the farm, who drove them,