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THE RADICAL.

BY

GEORGE ELIOT.

Upon the midlands now the industrious muse doth fall,
The shires which we the heart of England well may call.

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My native country thou, which so brave spirits hast bred,
If there be virtues yet remaining in the earth,

Or any good of thine thou bred'st into my birth,
Accept it as thine own, whilst now I sing of thee,
Of all thy later brood the unworthiest though I be."

DRAYTON: Polyolbien.

NEW YORK:

JOHN B. ALDEN, PUBLISHER,
1885.

FACE

FELIX HOLT

THE RADICAL.

INTRODUCTION.

FIVE-AND-THIRTY years ago the glory had not yet departed from the old coach-roads: the great road-side inns were still brilliant with well-polished tankards, the smiling glances of pretty barmaids, and the repartees of jocose hostlers; 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 peagreen Tally-ho or the yellow Independent; and elderly gentlemen in pony-chaises, quartering nervously to make way for the rolling, swinging swiftness, had not yet 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 compelled 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, oh youngsters! the elderly man has his enviable memories, and not the least of them is the memory of a long journey in midspring or autumn on the outside of a stage-coach. 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 tube-journey can never lend much to picture and narrative;

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it is as barren as an exclamatory O! Whereas the happy outside passenger seated on the box from the dawn to the gloaming gathered enough stories of English life, enough of English labors 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 water-courses, 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, his sheepdog following with a heedless, unofficial air as of a beadle in undress. The shepherd with a slow and slouching walk, timed by the walk of grazing beasts, moved aside, as if unwillingly, throwing out a monosyllabic hint to his cattle; his glance, accustomed to rest on things very near the earth, seemed to lift itself with difficulty to the coachman. Mail or stage coach for him belonged to that mysterious distant system of things called "Gover❜ment," which, whatever it might be, was no business of his, any more than the most outlying nebula or the coal-sacks of the southern hemisphere : his solar system was the parish; the master's temper and the casualties of lambing-time were his region of storms. He cut his bread and bacon with his pocket-knife, and felt no bitterness except in the matter of pauper laborers and the bad-luck that sent contrarious seasons and the sheep-rot. He and his cows. were soon left behind, and the homestead too, with its pond overhung by elder-trees, its untidy kitchen-garden and coneshaped yew-tree arbor. But everywhere the bushy hedgerows wasted the land with their straggling beauty, shrouded the grassy borders of the pastures with cat-kined hazels, and tossed their long blackberry branches on the corn-fields. Perhaps they were white with May, or starred with pale-pink dog-roses; perhaps the urchins were already nutting among them, or gathering the plenteous crabs. It was worth the journey only to see those hedgerows, the liberal homes of unmarketable beauty-of the purple-blossomed ruby-berried night-shade, of the wild convolvulus climbing and spreading in tendriled strength till it made a great curtain of pale-green hearts and white trumpets, of the many-tubed honey-suckle, which, in its most delicate fragrance, hid a charge more subtle and penetrating than beauty. Even if it were winter

the hedgegrows showed their coral, the scarlet haws, the deepcrimson hips, with lingering brown leaves to make a restingplace for the jewels of the hoar-frost. Such hedgerows were often as tall as the laborers' cottages dotted along the lanes, or clustered into a small hamlet, their little dingy windows telling, like thick-filmed eyes, of nothing but the darkness within. The passenger on the coach-box, bowled along above such a hamlet, saw chiefly the roofs of it: probably it turned its back on the road, and seemed to lie away from everything but its own patch of earth and sky, away from the parish church by long fields and green lanes, away from all intercourse except that of tramps. If its face could be seen it was most likely dirty; but the dirt was Protestant dirt, and the big, bold, gin-breathing tramps were Protestant tramps. There was no sign of superstition near, no crucifix or image to indicate a misguided reverence: the inhabitants were probably so free from superstition that they were in much less awe of the parson than of the overseer. Yet they were saved from the excesses of Protestantism by not knowing how to read, and by the absence of hand-looms and mines to be the pioneers of Dissent: they were kept safely in the via media of indifference, and could have registered themselves in the census by a big black mark as members of the Church of England.

But there were trim, cheerful villages, too, with a neat or handsome parsonage and gray church set in the midst; there was the pleasant tinkle of the blacksmith's anvil, the patient cart-horses waiting at his door; the basket-maker peeling his willow wands in the sunshine; the wheelwright putting the last touch to a blue cart with red wheels; here and there a cottage with bright, transparent windows showing pots full of blooming balsams or geraniums, and little gardens in front, all double-daisies or dark wall-flowers; at the well clean and comely women carrying yoked buckets, and toward the freeschool small Britons dawdling on, and handling their marbles in the pockets of unpatched corduroys adorned with brass buttons. The land around was rich and marly; great cornstacks stood in the rick-yards-for the rick-burners had not found their way hither; the homesteads were those of rich farmers who paid no rent, or had the rare advantage of a lease, and could afford to keep their corn till prices had risen. The coach would be sure to overtake some of them on their way to their outlying fields or to the market-town, sitting heavily on their well-groomed horses, or weighing down one

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