« PreviousContinue »
And why should they?—This question might be fairly asked by those who are sickened at the disgusting slaughter of the modern battues; but scarcely by those who remember the skill, the courage, the enterprise, required by the hunter, while, as yet, a blameless hunting field was before him in the wide wastes, and thick forests; and when his strong arm was invoked by the herdsman, even by the husbandman, to protect their herds from the wolf and the boar, and the tender crop from the wild deer. And then while the very exercise of skill, and courage, and enterprise, brought wild delight, as the employment of our active powers always must, the field of their display, was among the loveliest, and most of exhilarating scenery. What must have been the raptures of our kings in the chace,' as the gifted writer of these tales eloquently remarks. They came from a dreary and desolate life, from cares, and quarrels, and disappointments, and irksome labours, to make holiday in the free and joyous woods; and I can well understand how their hearts leapt up when the old trees waved, and the stag burst from the covert, and the woodland rang with the sounds of the chace.'
The plan of these three little volumes is excellent. By including tales of various periods, and thus tracing the forest and game-laws from their earliest source, Miss Martineau has laid hold on some of the poetry of the merry greenwood;' a poetry, of which, alas! but little remains in the minds of our peasantry in the present day. The first tale, 'Merdhin,' leads us as far back as the days of Canute; and the pictures of the visit of the lordly Dane, and the penalty imposed on the hero of the tale,-his anxious night-watch by the fold, and his flight to the woods, are all so true to the spirit of the times, and are so graphically described, that we hope we shall have more tales of as early a period from the same hand.
Under even the Danish monarchs, the game-laws were but lightly felt. With Norman William their severity began; and the next tale, The Manor and the Eyrie,' relates the fortunes of a noble Saxon and his family, compelled to quit his manor beside Winchester, in consequence of the afforesting of the neighbouring country.
The lord, his family, his servants, and all the inhabitants of the village, now about to be destroyed, form a melancholy procession. The Lord Ivar, and his daughters, and the carts, with the chests of plate and hangings, set forth first.
The one person who rode came next the cart which bore the plate chests. He had set forth on foot, between two fellow-servants; but his stumbling and his pain were found to be a spectacle more perilous than even the display of his condition in riding. The foresters had permitted him therefore to be placed on a mule which
closely followed the carts, and so, as they declared, needed no guiding. The rider was Wulfsige, a young servant of the domain,— a purveyor who had shot a deer two days before, on his master's land, and for his master's table,-not knowing that the king had then appropriated the whole environs of Winchester to complete his new forest and for this act the young man had been summarily deprived of his eyes and his right hand. As he was carried slowly forward, and drooped on his saddle, silent and faint, the royal keepers called their dogs near him, to distance any who might obtain too near a view of him, or offer him a few words. It was a burst of barking, thus occasioned, which made the Lord Ivar look behind him. When
he rode on, his face was, if possible, paler than before. The eyes of all gazers went down before it.
In a few moments, word was passed on to the lord and his family that old Ildeburg, the cattle-leech, had fallen dead
So ends his life of a hundred and thirty years!
to end!' exclaimed the Lady Lulle.
Such a life so
You would not have him live, sister,' said the younger lady, bringing up her horse beside her father's. He told us about raising the first corner post of the first house in the village and now he has not seen it destroyed.'
"What killed him?' demanded the Lord Ivar.
They say it was the light, my lord.'
More likely the noise of the dogs, and the confusion altogether, though they carried him gently. He said something about King Alfred, and then his head fell on one side, and he died.”
Ay! his father taught King Alfred some of the things he knew about herbs, and-'
''Silence!' cried Ivar. Bring forward the body, and let it be borne first.'
'I pray thee spare yonder oak,' said Ivar, whose eyes had been for some moments fixed on the grey and now quivering top of the oldest tree of the region, which stood beside the road, a little further on. 'That tree gave shelter to men, and food for swine before men had dwellings in this land, and before the name of Christ was heard beyond the manger in which he lay. I pray you now, in your great power over this forest, let that tree stand.'
The forester did not comprehend; and while he looked into the speaker's face for his meaning, a shout arose, through which a crashing was heard, and the whole tree lay in shivers across the path.
The old man-the old tree-the old times-we have done with them all to-day,' exclaimed Ivar, with something of his wonted spirit.'-vol. i. pp. 75-79.
Leaving his daughters at the convent of St. Mary, Ivar sets forth from Winchester with his gallant troop to seek a refuge from Norman tyranny in the Cumbrian Fells. The whole
journey is most spiritedly given. The men cut store of yew boughs for their trusty bows, in the royal chace, and press
'Scarcely did they pause in the meadows of Oxeneford, where sympathy was at hand, and English pride might be indulged. After dashing through the Thames, now swollen by late spring rains, Ivar merely looked up as he passed at the college founded by King Alfred, and at the building where Canute convened the Wittenagemot. As he rode by the defences, he bowed low to every man who looked forth, in token of his thanks for their defiance and repulse of the Conqueror's besieging troops.
* * *
'Here, more than hitherto, did the people gather and gaze as the little train passed on:-here did they loudly groan when they saw why it was that a young serving-man rode belted to his master:here did some venture eagerly to ask whither the party were bound; and here did Ivar reply to the inquiring look and glance, 'On! on to the Fells!' and here did they receive the first accession to their numbers. Before they disappeared northwards within the verge of Wichwood forest, some four or five stout men, well mounted and armed, joined themselves to the rear of the troop, and took their share in the announcement now made to all the discontented by the way-side, to the Fells!' *The enemy had a garrison at Legeocester, and foresters were posted in sight of the fords of the Leire; but the castle was evaded, and the regarders were defied; and the Lord Ivar rode on through glade, river, and meadow-land at his stern pleasure, his train of baggage-horses following, laden with the red deer which the Conqueror loved as if he had been their father. Many a banquet was there of this venison in Coventry that night, while Ivar and his train were gallopping on so as to be beyond the reach of the hue and cry by daylight. Then the morning sun gilded the craggy summits of the hills of Deoraby; and the evening sun cast the broad shadows of Ingleborough and Cam Fell over the woods and dales which declined to the eastward. Everywhere did sympathy rise up to greet the fugitives as they passed From the nooks of the Derby hills, from the Yorkshire dales and high moorlands came men-English men-some few to join the band,--many more to offer food and drink, or bringing fresh horses to exchange for such as were tired. Everywhere did their pursuers find, till the pursuit was given up as hopeless, traces of their course in empty dairies, hides of beasts still warm, trembling horses flecked with foam, men with subdued curses of the foreigners on their tongues, and women with a new-kindled fire in their eyes, laying a finger on their children's lips. The foiled pursuers found something so chilling in the shadows of those high moorlands,-so suspicious in the stillness of the dales, that they turned back at length, uttering, however, threats and insults against the men who were passing further and further out of their reach.'-vol. i., pp. 88-91.
Thus commences this spirited sketch of the first oppressions
of the game-laws, and we follow Ivar, and his fortunes in the forest, and on the battle field, with increasing interest, until, too soon, his corpse is conveyed to Lindisfarne, beside the moaning sea.'
In the next tale, 'The Staunch and their work,' we have rather a sketch, than a story. It is however an admirable one; and the character of the archbishop, Langton, is nobly drawn. Miss Martineau in her description of the effects of the interdict, has, however, fallen into the common error of supposing that the land was, during that period, wholly without religious services. This error has been justly pointed out by Dr. Lingard, for we have the express testimony of the chronicle of Dunstable, (a contemporary authority,) that during the interdict, 'marriages were performed, and women churched at the church door, sacraments were administered to infants, and to the dying, and on Sundays the people were called together in the churchyards to hear sermons and prayers.' It was not the simple ordinances of religion, but the gorgeous ceremonial of the Latin church-the bells, the music, the vestments, the splendid altar-service, which were laid aside, The people were rendered not irreligious, but had a valuable lesson of dissent taught them; and how largely they profited by that lesson, the plain of Runnymede, and the noble strife under Simon de Montfort will show.
There is much eloquence and truth in this passage, in which Langton refers to the result of the council on Runnymede :
"Your Grace's words were, I think, that our work would be done.'
"Ay; those were my words. The work we then had in hand is done, with an ease and completeness which fill many with triumph, but me with dread. As for the fulfilment of the liberties of England, that can no more be done in the course of a single moon, than the first beam of to-morrow's sun can make a diamond of a dew drop.'
'Are you bating your hope from our enterprise in the moment of its triumph?' asked Fitzwalter, somewhat roughly.
No,' said the Primate, gently. My heart swells this night with a calm and solemn hope such as has never filled it since the day when it opened to admit the mighty knowledge of man's redemption. It was when I was alone with my lamp in my silent cell that that mightiest of hopes-of heaven for man-entered into and expanded my soul. It is now under the arch of the sky, and with a friend on either hand, that I am filled with the greatest of temporal hopes, the final establishment of my nation's liberties on my native soil. No comparable third night can be in store for me, unless it be that of the passage of death, which may open to us other promise than we have now faculties to bear. No, Fitzwalter,' he added,
after a pause, 'my hope from our enterprise was never in such vigour and assurance till now.'
"And this day's assertion you believe to be useless,' said Fitzalan. Far from it. I believe the acts of this day to be of a value which can ill be estimated at the end of a thousand years. These charters shall not be so nearly lost and forgotten as was that of Henry the First and the tidings of this day's meeting in this old meadow of council shall be so proclaimed to the world, so preserved in chronicles, so echoed by tradition, as that every English child of the hundredth generation from ours shall know the name of Runnymede as well as that of its native town, and shall regard as sacred the spot where yonder tent-pole is driven. Unbounded in measure and duration are the uses which men will see arising from the transaction of this day; but they must be waited for, as fruit from the seed.' 'Fitzwalter sighed. Langton continued,
If a bold traveller gives me, from some fair opening region of the earth, a kernel, got with cost and pains, am I to sigh over it as useless, and the cost and pains misspent, because it gives me no luscious pulp and no refreshing juice? Must I not rather learn and admit that other needs remain,-need of nourishing earth and a fitting shelter, and a frequent appliance of reviving water? Is it not something to look forward gladly to a time when this kernel shall have become a fruit-bearing tree,-ay, and the stock of so many that every man may have his own overhanging the door of his house? May I not rejoice in such a coming time, even though I myself may perhaps have died of hunger and thirst before the kernel has visibly sprouted?' '-vol. i. pp. 193-197.
We wish Miss Martineau had given us another tale of the middle ages ;—she has caught their spirit and character with such admirable correctness-and we wish it the more, inasmuch as she is certainly in error in placing the Forest Charter in the reign of King John. The reign of his son, and in 1222, is unquestionably the proper date, of that, which has been emphatically called 'the charter of the Commons.' Her next tale brings us down to the reign of Charles the First. This, though short, is admirably told; but still, we should have had another tale, illustrating the intervening period.
The second volume commences with a tale based upon the wild doings of the Waltham Blacks' in 1720, for whose especial punishment, that sanguinary act, which made it felony without benefit of clergy, to hunt, wound, kill, or steal any deer; to rob a warren; or to steal fish by day or by night, with faces blacked, or otherwise disguised!' was passed, and was actually put into operation; an act, which, one would have thought, would be sufficient to deter men from following the