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round far above us; while the tree-pipit, not willing to be out of it all, rises from his twig, mounts up, and comes to it again, singing merrily as he floats down. between-for there is not a break
this year. If noise is with them an expression of pleasure, they are certainly rejoicing over their early meal. The heave-jars left their chafer-hunting just when we first entered the meadows to fish: they are now resting somewhere on the you hear the notes of other limbs or branches of the fine oaks songsters, the bright little song around us-not as other birds rest, of the chaffinch, also the scolding but lengthways, in a line with the of white-throats, and the soft little limb or branch the birds squat on, songs of the willow wrens; whilst so as to be invisible from below ever and anon the greenfinches and quite secure from harm above call "breeze-breeze.” it. The last late owl has gone home to the farm at the foot of the hill. I call him late, for the sun is high up now, and it will be very hot before long. Where these grand vermin - hunters are protected, they show great confidence, coming out to hunt directly the sun is down a little, and continuing to do so until the farm hands take their horses out to work in the morning. The mousehunters, the white or barn owls, come out earlier and hunt later than do the wood or brown owls. These fine birds are, happily, now valued here as much as they were at one time detested. The grim superstitions that have for centuries clung to them, like their own feathers, have at last fallen from them, thanks to the pleadings of many a naturalist.
Bird-music sounds above and around us, for this has not been a forward season; the weather has for the time of year been damp and chill. Now that there is every appearance of fine settled weather, the feathered songsters seem to know it, and the riverside rings with the songs of blackbirds, thrushes, and blackcaps. The chatter of the sedge-warblers comes in between. The music floats up and down and over the water, like the films of mist that yet rise from it; larks ring out their glad notes as they circle
This favoured bit of woodland river is one of those bird paradises that can be found close to home. And what can be more beautiful than these meads, meadows, and fine park-lands dotted over with noble trees? The valley of Holmesdale is before us, and the hills are above and around us. A man I once knew said to me, "I have been in many lands, but you have shown me one of the fairest sights I have ever seen." Yet it is only one out of thousands to be found at any time in fair weather or foul, in summer or in winter, quite accessible too, round and about our Surrey hills.
As we stand thinking, all the life-giving odours from trees and plants come to us and then leave us for a time, as the light air left them. Swallows dash under the arches of the grey bridge, and the sand-martins flit like butterflies from their holes in the banks: all is full of joyous life. Even the voices of the rooks are in harmony: they fall in like the chanting of black friars. The whole surroundings, if we set on one side the unrivalled beauty of the scenery, are full of interest, for they have historical records of their
Religious establishments once flourished near the Mole, with these monks and friars; and the great of this world, as well as
many a poor pilgrim, have walked by the roads and paths that led by devious ways over the hills and under the hills, through woods and over heaths, at last to the ford of the Pilgrims' Way, on right away into Kent.
Even the mills have records of their own. Some of the millers will certainly not be forgotten yet awhile. I can recollect so many that have gone before, that it makes me feel very old. Good men and true were some of these old millers, but fiercely conservative and cantankerous on all that pertained to fish,—the pike, perch, carp, bream, roach, dace, and trout, to say nothing about the fine silver eels that the river was and is still noted for. Eels of 3, 4, and 6 lb. weight I have known to be taken from the weir and the trap of the mill below. If you had work to do at the mill-houses you were hospitably treated; but if the miller or his men knew you had a fishing-line in your pocket, woe betide you! The fish were for the miller or for his landlord's sport, if he wanted a day's fishing, but for no one else. Some of them at that time were called 66 men of their inches," which meant that in the settlement of a matter they did not require any one to help them; they did not appeal to the law. As they would not always give permission to fish when asked to do so, some —that is, two or three that, like their "betters," were also men of their inches-fished fairly at times without it.
The weir is left behind, and we have made our way to the millpool where the river above makes its way over and through the sluices into the pool below. Tench and fine carp once had their home here with other fish; and we can assure our readers that river carp
and tench are very different from muddy pond fish of the same species. But it is no use coming here now to tempt those carp, and 7 lb. in weight, with a small fresh-dug new potato, or an amberheart cherry fresh from the tree, the hook being inserted in it while the cherry was held by its stem, so that the fingers did not come in contact with the fruit. When all was ready the stem was pulled out and the bait dropped in. If our old gardener friend, whose most bitter foes were hawfinches, because they ground up his marrer-fats, could provide us with a pod of his most "perticklers," as he called them, it would be no use now. Yet a fine green pea, or for that matter a couple, is a deadly lure for a large carp. If you wish to catch fish you must know how they feed. The carp family feed heads down and tails up as a rule: they pick the bait off the bottom and rise with it. As they are to a great extent vegetable feeders, and have throat teeth, all our fishing readers will understand my meaning here.
Now for the reason why it is of no use fishing, at the present time, in the stretch of water above mentioned. Otters, those highly sagacious beasts, are there in numbers.
The bleak have left off rising for the midges that fall in small clouds on the water; the shadows of the trees are dark and dim, a dull tawny hue is all that the setting sun has left behind it, and the river mist is curling over it.
Hark! what is that mysterious sound?-something like a deep whistle mixed with hissing. It is answered more faintly higher up. It is the otters' dinner call; they are answering each other as they come down the river—not a couple but three or four of them. Small
heaps of large seals and bits of fish pones have been found for a long time now by those who know where to look. Until they must shift, the otters have their own way here, and they have had the large fish on their spawning-beds and in their submerged root sanctuaries; and eels are now scarce. Who can wonder at it! Recently the otters have drawn as close to man and his works as rats. Leading from the bridge that spans the tumbling bay of the pool, rushing floods have washed the path away. This, some time back, was remedied by fixing railway-sleepers, in the most solid manner, so as to form a platform from the pool bridge to the fields beyond. One moonlight night, a wanderer crossing from the fields saw what he at first sight took to be three of the mill cats at play, cutting high jinks directly he reached the platform, he saw at once they were otters. All this close to the mill-house, and where people are passing day and night! Even the miller laughed and was incredulous when he was told that they were close to him. But he does not smile now, for not only have they cleared off all the large fish, but they have had the moor-hens and rabbits as well, to say nothing about the water-voles. It used to be said that this water smelt of fish; the scent has now left it, for a time at any rate.
I know where they come from, and where they go their roads overland are only a few feet from the river above to the pool below; to this they most pertinaciously cling. Some of our readers may wonder how it is that they are not killed off. Those who have tried to do this, either with gun or trap, have met with but little success; for they do not know how to go about it, and those who do know
keep their mouths shut. It is too great a treat to see a fine dog otter come whistling down the river, head up, rush up his favourite tunnel out on the grass, and pass in front of you down into the pool; and this is what they have done and are doing still, for their tracks are as visible as those of sheep to people that understand them.
I used to think that it was not possible that the otters would make themselves at home like barn-rats, but I have found lately that I was mistaken : one is always learning, where wild life is concerned.
From the nature of the locality and the depth of this water, the fiercest and most eager pack of otter-hounds could not hunt them ; this the otters know, and they act on it. When their old haunts came to grief by the great trees falling, and taking down the banks with them, they shifted their quarters, and there they have increased, and still flourish. A change of habitat does good at times to beasts as well as men. In the case of the otters it has been to their advantage, but how long this may continue one is not able to say. Wild creatures are capricious at times in their movements.
If they get at the fowls and ducks, something will be said and something done for their thinning off.
How far the otters wander in the dead of winter their trails and seals plainly show. They are watched for, but the watchers have been a little before or a little after the time: so much the better for our friends. The otters belong to that very astute family that includes the weasels; and these, we know, we never catch sleeping.
A SON OF THE MARSHES.
POETS AND GEOGRAPHERS.
THAT there should exist any close connection between Poetry and Geography, and any close reciprocity between poets and geographers, may appear somewhat paradoxical, especially in the ears of those who have limited Geography to a very narrow sphere, and have been generally accustomed to regard it as the most dismal of all dismal studies. How, indeed, may they exclaim, can the austere race of cosmographers sit comfortably by the side of the genus irritabile vatum? Can they inspire them with any new enthusiasm, or add a single bay-leaf to the crown that encinctures their foreheads? What advantageth it a man if he has cultivated a close acquaintance with the equator? If he has followed the longitudes southwards or northwards? If he has been near the magnetic pole? If he has set foot in Timbuctoo? Or, indeed, if he has seen the hidden sources of the Nile itself? Is it possible for a man to be a better poet because he is a geographer, or is it even worth while for a literary man to read much about travellers' tales and the mysteries of Geography? A great deal of the low esteem in which Geography has been held in England, a country which has produced more sailors, travellers, and explorers than any other nation in Europe, must be attributed to ideas of our literary men on the subject. Amongst others, no man openly expressed a more cynical disdain of travel and travellers than the great Dr Johnson. "These books," quoth he, 'pointing to three large volumes of voyages to the South Sea which were just come out, who will read them through? A man had better
work his way before the mast than read them through; they will be eaten by rats and mice before they are read through. There can be little entertainment in such books; one set of savages is like another." And, on another occasion, when poor Boswell told him that he had been in conversation with Captain Cook, and had caught the enthusiasm of curiosity and adventure to such a degree that he felt a strong inclination to go with him, Johnson exclaimed, "Why, sir, a man does feel so, till he considers how very little he can learn from such voyages.'
Still, it may be maintained with a great show of justice that Geography has long served the purposes of a handmaid to the Ars Poetica. Four hundred years ago Columbus, the great pilot-major of the western world, the dreamer, the enthusiast, tore aside the veil of ages, and stood in the full light of an astonished word as the hierarch of the new science of Geography.
If there ever was a poet
geographer it was the great Columbus. Even before his day, when Prince Henry of Portugal had established a naval college and erected an observatory at Sagres, the immediate result of which was to lead the Portuguese sailors far south to the Cape of Storms, the renaissance of Geography had begun. Slowly, step by step, the great school of obscurantists, classicists, Dominican friars, and the Orders who monopolised all learning, were compelled to give way to the new light. Plato's Atlantis was sighted, the mythical Antilia sprang into literal and magnificent realisation, the New World rose into being with the
freshness and innocence of Eden upon it, and Geography, before the lust of gold bewildered and degraded men's thoughts, came to be almost an ἐπιστήμη ἀρχιτεκτονική, and the study of princes. The "card" of the adventurous mariner, pricking his way from point to point in doubt and gloom, through storm and tempest, to some hitherto unknown region in the far west, possessed a magic charm for even the most unimpressionable savans of the day; whilst the bronzed hero of adventure himself, who, like the crew in Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner," had burst for the first time into some "Silent Sea," was the cynosure of all ages, and held his audience spell-bound with the tale of his travels. Not unfrequently, like our own Sir Francis Drake, he was the honoured friend of royalty.
Geography, in these days, was no grinning skeleton of facts, no hard matter of aggregated science, no worn out, plagiarised, and much travestied deity; but she sat, beautiful muse, clothed in magical and diaphanous vesture, half-revealed, radiant, full of beauty and colour, halting at the pearly gates of Enterprise, and beckoning men on, westwards and eastwards, to the shores of Far Cathay and rich El Dorados. Hand-in-hand with her sat Urania, the meek muse of Astronomy, who had led men to the stars, and, by reading the stars, had taught them to read the face of the habitable globe, and know Geography herself.
At the present time we pay too little attention to the muse, and forget that there was any romanticism in the progress of the science. She seems to have perished with her own triumphs. We are content to say that there has been a mythopoeic age in the history of Geography, and in the
laborious unfolding of God's great world. Wonder has ceased, science has stepped in. Instead of the ancient mariner's primitive "card," we have a we have a few instruments, a table of logarithms, Admiralty soundings, and a nautical guide: all else seems superfluous. We have tracked Ariel to his lair, we have weighed the ocean, sounded its mighty depths, analysed its ooze, learned its currents, surveyed its coasts to the remotest bays. The only myth we furbish up is that of the great sea-serpent; and those men who occupy their business in great waters have little wonder and small admiration. The legend of the impious Dutchman is but an allegory. Those picturesque charts of continents, traced and illuminated with wondrous empires, monstrous animals, fabled cities, like that which Salvation Yeo, in Westward Ho,' is represented as showing to a wondering Devon crowd, has given place to Mercator's Projection, on an accurate and most scientific scale. Geography is, therefore, construed by some to be simply a collection of dead bones in a valley of death. There is no rhythm in a logarithm, no music of the spheres in even the most perfect spherical projection. Whether this is such as it ought to be-whether it is right to strip that once radiant divinity of all her flesh, colour, and raiment, and assign her no shrine worthy of habitation-is another question. Great Pan is dead! is the cry we utter over past paganism; yet as a source of inspiration, and an ever-fertile subjectmatter for poets and sculptors, Great Pan and the classic myths have an enduring life, as, indeed, the late Poet Laureate has demonstrated to us abundantly. May not Geography, therefore, simply