What can be prettier and more picturesque than one of the quaint old English inns, which Dickens and a score of other writers have described? Some years ago these little hostelries maintained themselves with difficulty. The substitution of the railroad for the stage-coach had given them, apparently, a fatal blow; but with the advent of the bicycle they are reviving. Aside from the English, themselves, the number of Americans who ride through England every summer now is astonishing. England is indeed a paradise for bicyclists. The roads are admirably made; the distances between attractive halting-places are short; the climate is cooler than our own; the cost of such travel is comparatively small; and all along the way the wheelman comes upon little inns where he can rest and take a modest lunch, or pass the night, certain of cleanliness at least to compensate him for the homely fare.
A Well-Kept Avenue.
An English Inn.
One of the first excursions that I made in England was to Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain. As I approached the place, I recognized from a considerable distance its famous group of tall, dark stones rising in bold relief against the sky. Rough and unshapely though they are, I gazed upon them with the deepest interest; for they have been standing here two thousand years, and were undoubtedly marked with age before the founder of Christianity was born. What makes them even more impressive is the mysterious silence that broods over them. Though situated in the very heart of England, the busy world has always kept aloof from them. No voice disturbs the stillness of the broad plateau on which they stand. No rudely carved inscription vaguely tells their secret. Their unrecorded meaning reaches back into the shadows of conjectured history. They were originally placed in couples, and bore aloft a third great monolith, well-nigh as ponderous as themselves. Around them, scattered over the adjoining plain, are the remains of mounds containing funeral urns and weapons of the dead. This area, therefore, was no doubt a burial place for British kings; and these huge blocks once formed a sacred temple of the Druids, that strange and powerful priesthood of the British race. One of these Druid-ical stones rises in isolation from its comrades, like a colossal sun-dial, whose shadow has been moving on its slow, unchanging path, while kingdoms, dynasties, and even races have flourished here and passed away.
Like A Colossal Sun-Dial.
If the old monolith could speak, what stories might it tell of the dark days when human sacrifices stained this area with blood! Throughout the Roman occupation, during the night of the Dark Ages, through the slow rise and progress of Christianity, and, finally, through all the power and fame of modern England, this rough-hewn column has looked grimly down upon the plain, as on a stage upon which countless kings and warriors have made their entrances and exits, ephemeral actors in an endless play.
Another episode of English travel which I recall with the greatest pleasure is a visit to the churchyard of Stoke Pogis, to which Gray's matchless "Elegy" has given an undying charm. It has changed little since the poet's time, save that the "ivy-mantled tower" which he described is now surmounted by a modern spire. The latter is not a pleasing addition, and even the ivy, which clings so lovingly to the old walls, avoids the spire as if it were a strange intruder. With this exception, however, the place is as it was when Gray was wont to linger here at sunset, while "the curfew tolled the knell of parting day." Beneath the oriel window, rich with verdure, is the poet's grave, - an ideal resting-place for one who has identified his name forever with its peaceful beauty. I found the poet's home, not far from the church, to be a pretty little cottage, set in a frame of ivy, foliage, and flowers, and embellished, also, by the garden where he often sat elaborating his immortal poem.
A Gigantic Trio.
Stoke Pogis Churchyard.