I was sitting, one day, in the New Forest, under a beech tree. I like to look at the beech, and study it, as I do many other trees, for every one has its own peculiarities and habits, its special ways of twisting its boughs, and growing its bark, and opening its leaves, and so forth. As I looked up at that beech, and admired the wisdom of God in making it, I saw a squirrel running round and round the trunk, and up the branches, and I thought to myself, 'Ah! this beech tree is a great deal more to you than it is to me, for it is your home, your living, your all.' Its big branches were the main streets of his city, and its little boughs were the lanes; somewhere in that tree he had his house, and the beech-mast was his daily food, he lived on it. Well, now, the way to deal with God's Word is not merely to contemplate it, or to study it, as a student does; but to live on it, as that squirrel lives on his beech tree. Let it be to you, spiritually, your house, your home, your food, your medicine, your clothing, the one essential element of your soul's life and growth.--C.H.S, in a sermon at the Tabernacle
A Holiday, Drive to the New Forest
ONE of my dear husband's most congenial recreations consisted in spending a long day in the country--driving over hill and dale, and through the lanes and pretty villages of our charming county of Surrey. Many sweet days of rest have thus been snatched from weeks of heavy toil, and a furlough of a few hours has helped to restore and refresh the overworked brain and heart. He would go out in good time, taking with him some choice companion, or, perchance, another weary worker; and, driving slowly, they would jog along till noon, when, at a pleasant wayside inn, they would rest the horse, and have their luncheon, returning in the cool of the evening for high tea at home at six or seven o'clock.
Such rest Mr. Spurgeon found very delightful; but this was surpassed and completed when a fortnight of similar days could be linked together to form a perfect holiday. Then, instead of driving back in the sunset, he would go forward; and the trip would extend itself to many towns, and bring him into pleasant acquaintance with new objects of interest, and novel impressions of places and people. It was amusing, at these times, to note that his ideas of comfort, and his disregard of external appearances, were equally conspicuous. He liked a cozy seat, and easy travelling; but he cared nothing for the style of his equipage; an old horse--most inappropriately named 'Peacock' and a shabby carriage were matters of perfect indifference to him, so long as they were safe and trustworthy, and carried him out of the noise of the crowded world, into the stillness and beauty of nature's quiet resting-places.
I well remember--aye, and with a present thrill of regret that I ever laughed at it--his purchasing, for these jaunts, a vehicle of so antiquated a pattern, and of such unfashionable proportions, that it was immediately dubbed 'Punch's coach,' and ever after bore that name. Its mirth-provoking aspect was increased when it was packed and prepared for a journey, for there was an arrangement behind, which supported a board for luggage, and added exceedingly to its grotesque and inelegant appearance. However, this convenient provision was, in the dear owner's estimation, one of its chief advantages, if not the very climax of its beauty; and though I laughed afresh at every glimpse of it, I loved him so dearly that I even learned to appreciate 'Punch's coach' for his sweet sake. As I write, and the memories of the old days surge over my mind like the billows from a distant shore, I rejoice to know that his slightest wishes were tenderly indulged, and that his beaming, loving, satisfied face, as he started off on one of these country tours, is far more deeply impressed on my heart than the remembrance of his unsightly holiday caravan! Never was he more happy and exultant than when making excursions of this kind; and those who were privileged to accompany him, saw him at his social best, and with one accord they have testified to the grace and charm of his companionship.
From the pages of his daily letters to me, on one of these notable occasions, I have woven the story of his holiday drive into this single bright chapter; which, in consequence, possesses all the attractiveness of a personal narrative, and I think it well sets forth some traits in his lovely character which could in no other way have been so naturally revealed--his intense delight in the works of God, his fine appreciation of the minute or half-concealed lovelinesses of nature, his care for all living creatures, his calm and contented spirit, his devotion under all circumstances to his Master and His work; all these are brought into distinct relief by the lively touches of his own vigorous pen and pencil.
Perhaps, out of respect for the 'old horse' previously mentioned, and which made so many delightful journeys for my beloved, I ought to explain that the 'noble greys' referred to in the opening sentences of the letters were owned and driven, in this particular instance, by a member of the party; but they had to draw 'Punch's coach' for all that!
Alton. June, 1873--I am having a grand time. The horses are noble greys; the carriage, with my luggage-basket behind, most comfortable. We go along with an ease and dignity seldom equalled, and never surpassed. From Guildford, we drove to the foot of Martha's Chapel, and climbed to the very summit. What a view! Then down, and back to Guildford, and up the Hog's Back. Mistaking the route, we went up an old deserted Roman road, immensely broad, and all green. What a piece of country! The road itself was a sight, and the views on either side were sublime. So on to Farnham, where we dined and went into the Bishop's park, which you will remember, with its deer, and avenue of elms. From Farnham to Alton is pretty and fruitful, but there were no incidents. I revised part of a sermon last night, and went to bed at 11.30; fell asleep at once, and neither stirred nor dreamed. I awoke at 6, then got up, and finished the sermon. Already, I am so much better that I feel able to go to work again--quite. We go to Selborne this afternoon. How I wish you were with me! But you shall know anything I see which can help you to realize where I am, and what I am doing. By the way, this morning we went into the church here, and saw an old door which was riddled by the Parliamentarians; we were also regaled with a superabundance of organ music which a young gentleman volunteered. The church is restored very beautifully, and in good taste.
Same day, later.--The drive was delicious, and I feel so well. Selborne is a little heaven of delights. It is Switzerland in miniature, where every turn changes the scene. If it were in a foreign land, all the world would crowd to it. We were all charmed; who could be otherwise? Well might White write so prettily upon so choice a subject. Hill, dell, bourne, hanger, down, lane, and wood--one has them all within a very small compass, and with endless variety. We have returned to Alton to send off some of our party; and now, at a council of war, we have decided to visit Selborne again tomorrow, and see more of that gem of a village.
Selborne--What a grand morning we have had! Up the Hanger above the village we climbed by a zigzag path, and had a very extensive view. It was delicious to ramble among the tall beeches, and peep down upon the village, and then to descend into the place itself by winding paths. We went to White's house, and were received very kindly by Professor Bell and his wife, both very aged persons. We were soon known, and had in honour. The poor complain of the parson's neglect of them, and their lack of anything to hear which they can understand. We rambled about as in a paradise, and then were off to Alresford. What enjoyment I have had, and what health is upon me! I never felt better in my life. We are all so happy with the scenery, that we do not know how to be grateful enough. Oh, that you were here! One of these days, I hope and pray you may be able to come.
From Alresford, we have driven here (Winchester), along the beautiful valley of the Itchen, and your dear note was all I wanted to make me full of joy. Letters had accumulated here up to Wednesday. I have already answered twenty-five, and Mr. B- many others; so we are keeping the work under.
Winchester is a rare old place. We went first to the Hospital of St. Cross, and had a piece of bread, and a cup of beer. The cups are of horn, with five silver crosses on them; and my trio of friends bought one for me as a souvenir, and present for my coming birthday.
I noticed that poor men took a hunch of bread, while gentlemen were satisfied to receive a mere mouthful; and I thought--Ah! None feed on Christ so fully as the poor and hungry. The dole is exhausted about noon, but the mercy of God continues to the eleventh hour.
Having tasted of the hospitality of St. Cross, we passed into its rectangle, under the arch of the Beaufort Tower. It is here that the dole is given, and here we saw some of the old brethren in their gowns with crosses; there are thirteen of these old pensioners, and they get two quarts of beer to drink every day, and on 'gaudy days' gin and beer hot! Indeed, these old Saxon institutions appear to have regarded beer as the grand necessary of life! We walked and talked, and then sat down on the steps leading up into the dining-hall, and quietly looked on the curious scene. In the days when the place was built, chimneys were a new invention, and therefore they are all external, and have a grotesque appearance. On one side are the cloisters, and at the further end is a noble church, in which service is performed twice a day.
Our next visit was to St. Catherine's Hill, but as I could not pretend to climb it, we kept along the river-bank till we reached the cathedral. Here, a most intelligent guide made a couple of hours pass away as if they had only been so many minutes. I know more about architecture now than I had ever imagined I could learn, and am able to talk quite fluently about Early English, Decorated, Norman, etc., etc. It was strange to see the chests in which were the bones of Edgar, Ethelwulf, and all those old Saxon kings, and the sarcophagus of William Rufus. There is a kaleidoscopic window, all of the true old material, but no design, order, or arrangement; it reminded me of some men's theological knowledge--their system is of the 'anyhow' character. The thing which pleased us most was a pulpit, into which I ascended. The whole place was full of interest, even down to the crypt, into which we ventured.
After the cathedral, we visited the famous school of William Wykeham, where the 'tunding' took place. It is like one of the Cambridge Colleges, and very quaint are its ways. The photograph I send you shows the tower of the school-chapel, and the Quakers'-meeting-looking place in front is the French school. We saw the dining-hall, and the great buttery hatches through which the meat and beer are passed, of which the boys have as much as they choose--Saxon again! Near the kitchen, is the ancient painting of 'the faithful servant,' which seems to be held in high repute at Winchester, but I think it a very poor thing. I have also been up St. Giles' Hill, above Winchester, and watched the setting sun, and have seen the lamps lit one after another all along the hill. It was very beautiful indeed, and the evening was so cool and calm it did me a world of good.
Salisbury.--To-day has been very dull and wet. Our drive through Hursley to Romsey was all very well; but from Romsey here, there was a constant downpour, and it got to be rather wearisome. It rains still, and I feel very tired; but a sunny day tomorrow will set me up again. I don't like big hotels in towns like dear old 'Hatches' and the blessed trees.
Amesbury. Sabbath.--Last evening, we went into the grounds of the Abbey Park, the property of Sir Edward Antrobus. The river Avon runs through the domain, in many windings, branchings, and twistings. The grounds are thickly wooded, but so little frequented that we heard the hoarse crow of the pheasant, the coo of pigeons, the cry of waterfowl, the song of countless birds, and the plash of leaping fish, but no sound of man's profaning footsteps. We sat on an ornamental bridge, and listened to the eloquence of nature, while the river hastened along beneath us. The family being away, we had leave to wander anywhere, and we enjoyed the liberty very much. I was up this morning at six o'clock, dressing slowly, and meditating; then I came down, and had an hour's work at The Interpreter. I do not mean to preach to-day, except with my pen; and it is a great pleasure to me to use that instrument when thought flows freely. May you also have a quiet day, and gather strength! May the Lord God of Israel bless my own best-beloved, and cause His face to shine upon her!
We had a nice little service yesterday morning, and after dinner, we went into the woods again. How I wish you could have been with me! Imagine a series of cathedrals of beech trees; the pillars all of silver, and the roof of emerald lace-work and twinkling stars of sunlight; the walls of dense yew trees, and the floor ankle-deep of red and brown leaves, softer than a velvet carpet. Rain fell; but, under the yews, we only heard it patter; and as we lay still, we could hear the wild ducks on the stream, far down below, making love,--and war. Presently, the sun came out, and we walked through the grand avenues up to a hill, which stood as a cliff above the Avon, with the Abbey House full in view, and Beacon Hill and the Wiltshire range of Downs with plentiful tumuli. Here again we saw pheasants in the mead on the other side, one white one among them, and wild ducks and coots on the river, diving, swimming, and flying after one another. Swallows were all around us. Wood-pigeons came every now and then, and some were in the trees cooing constantly. Hawks poised themselves in the air, flocks of starlings flew overhead, like November meteors, thrushes and blackbirds sang; and, last of all, there came, on downy yellow pinions, white-breasted and round-faced, your friend the owl, who sped into the wood, and was soon followed by another, whose soft course, on noiseless broad-sailing wings, would have made you nestle up to me for joy, and whisper, 'Oh, husband, how lovely!' All the while, the fish leaped as if they were quite at home, for we were as high above them and all the other things as if we were on a church spire. We then walked down green alleys, and startled the rabbits in families; and, as we stood still, we saw their gambols, and marked the hares sitting upright, so that, seeing only their backs, they might have been mistaken for stumps of trees, if it had not been for their ears. I send you a sketch of them. A sneeze made them run, or rather, leap away. Then we came on young partridges and hen-coops, which we left at once, for fear of offending; and so came in to tea, walking along the river-bank, and smelling the new-mown hay. It was a sweet Sabbath. To-day and yesterday, I have done twenty-four pages of The Interpreter, and have sixteen more to do when I can. Love as deep as the sea and as broad, I send thee, my dear one.
Lyndhurst.--Three dainty notes have I devoured; real delicacies, flavoured with the love I prize above all earthly things. This place is so beautiful that, to linger here for a week or two, will be delightful, and better than going elsewhere. On the way here, we drove to Broadlands, and had a good view of the interior. There is as fine a collection of pictures as I ever saw, distributed over a house replete with comforts and conveniences. The Temples and Palmerstons were set forth in noble portraits, but there were many works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Peter Lely, Wouverman, and other great masters; many Dutch pictures, and a large number full of interest, and truly instructive works of art. A mile further, we saw Embley Park, where Miss Nightingale was born, and another four or five miles brought us into the forest amid the wildest scenery, and boundless wilderness of shade. Here we came upon the Rufus Stone, of which I send you all three sides. I bought them of a poor boy in a smock-frock, on the spot. 'Mother paints 'em, Sor,' was the answer of this youth to my question, 'Where do you buy them?' What are the Selbornians after to have no photographs of their sweet village? Evidently, this 'Mrs. Hedge' of the New Forest is an advanced woman! How vivid history becomes when such memorials are before one's eyes! The top of the iron pillar is grated, so that we could look in, and see the stone which it encases. Here it began to rain, but we had only about four miles to drive to Lyndhurst, so we went along very gently in alternate shower and shine.
So ends this week's chronicle. I do not think more could well have been seen; certainly, more could not be enjoyed by any living man in the absence of a dear wife to share his pleasure. How I should have loved you to have seen the partridges, and rabbits, and birds of all kinds, and forest trees and cedars, and roses and honey-suckles! It may yet be. The Lord cheer thy heart, thou dearest among women! Accept my most fervent love, hot from my inmost heart!
Sabbath.--I have been to the little Baptist Chapel, and have been much refreshed with a plain sermon from 'Master, carest Thou not that we perish?' We then walked in the wood, and talked and meditated. It is a grand thing to be lost in the forest within five minutes of coming out of a meeting-house!
Monday.--This morning, we have been in the forest again from ten till twelve. There are great masses of beech in one place, then oak, then underwood and small trees. Amid these are green lawns, and verdant valleys, glades, dells, hills, and vales. Sometimes trees disappear, and all is common, with gorse, heather, and low bushes. Cottages surprise you everywhere, in nooks as secret as the haunts of fairies. Cattle with bells create an Alpine tinkling, horses and hogs go in troops. Everything is picturesque, and the space seems boundless. One might soon be lost, for the roads, and tracks, and mere trails, are countless. Birds and insects abound, and wild flowers and mosses. It is a world of beauty, I can say no less. The trunks of the stately trees, all aglow with lichen and moss, are loveliness itself; and the weird oaks are sometimes grotesque, and at other times solemn. Lyndhurst is only a village, but it is in the forest, and that is its charm. You can ramble where you will, and no man can threaten you for trespassing. We hoped to see some of the fallow deer, and the squirrels; but have not succeeded as yet. We tracked a little brawling brook this morning; and if ever perfect beauty has existed on earth since the Fall, we saw it. What with foxgloves on the banks, and rare ferns at the river's brim, and the rippling waters among mossy mole-mounds, and thyme-bearing knolls, and the red floor beneath the temple of beech shade--it was matchless! I am as happy as half a being can be without the other half! It would be bliss indeed if you were here to share my joys.
Tuesday.--An evening drive has been supremely delightful from its coolness, and from the shadows and the gleams of glory from the setting sun, which here and there lit up the tree-tops, blazed among the old roots, and gilded the lofty forest columns. I feel as peaceful as serenity itself. No place upon earth could so fitly minister to a wearied brain by giving such perfect rest. It is better than cities, pictures, or even mountains, for all is peace, and there is not even sublimity to excite the emotions of the mind. One rests, and gazes on a spider's web all silvered o'er, and set with diamonds of dew; a beetle flying heavily; a dragon-fly dashing forward like a cavalier charging the foe, then hesitating and irresolute until another fit of energy seizes him; a foal frisking with delight at its mother's side; a snake rustling hurriedly away among the red leaves, or a partridge scurrying across the heather! Thank God for such peaceful scenes!
We have been through Boldre Wood and Mark Ash, and seen the most wonderful forest scenery I have ever beheld or even dreamed of. The huge beeches and oaks are so fantastic as to seem grotesque and wizard-like. They are beyond measure marvellous, and one could visit them twelve times a day, and yet not see half their beauties. The most singular thing of all is the flying buttress of the beech trees, which I never observed before. A long bough will be supported by another which joins it from lower down, and grows into it, so as to hold it up. This habit in the beech leads to great curiosities of growth, for there are sometimes threefold bracings, and great branches will be thus locked together, while, in other instances, one bough will curl under another in order, apparently, to hold it up. There are shapes most unshapely, and twistings most queer and unexpected, but the one object appears to be to buttress one another, and contribute to each other's strength by this strange interlacing. Just so should believers aid one another; are they not all branches of one tree?
June 19, 1873.--This is my thirty-ninth birthday, and I desire to bless God for sparing and blessing me, and for giving me, as one of His choicest gifts, my own dear, precious wife. May we be spared to one another for many a day, and dwell together for ever hereafter! Thank you for your dear fond letter. Truly, it is sweet to be so dearly loved, and to love in return with an eagerness which could understand limping expressions, much more the tender words which you employ. God bless thee! It has rained all day, so we have all been to be photographed, gratifying our vanity, since we could not indulge our observation. I am promised a copy of the group to-night before this is posted, though it will not have been long enough in water to prevent its fading; but if it pleases you for a moment, it will answer my purpose.
What do you think of your old 'hub' in the forest? Does he not look calm and happy?
I think the old log just suits him, and the shabby old coat, too! I like the photograph better than any portrait ever taken of me; I wonder if you will?
After I wrote to you yesterday, I worked a little while at The Interpreter, but soon felt one of my old attacks coming on, so we set off for a long walk, and at some time past ten o'clock at night we lost our way in the thick of the forest, only we knew the direction of Lyndhurst by the chimes. After breaking through the long grass, brambles, bracken, and underwood, we came to the edge of the dense enclosed wood in which we had been wandering, but a ditch and a pond barred our way. However, there were some rails of fencing across, and over this we climbed, and went along it above the water. We landed in a field of high grass, and made tracks for a cottage, got into the garden, down the path, and out at the front gate, nobody challenging us. This adventure did me good, and procured me a fair night's sleep.
To-day, we have been to look at the scene of our night wandering, and to find out where we missed our way. We have roamed in the wood for two hours, and have never seen a soul. Birds, rabbits, flies, ants, and spiders have been our only company, save the ONE with whom we have held sweet converse, and of whose Word we have spoken to each other.
We have been for a drive to Lymington. It was charming to pass through the forest. Each road has its own character, and there is no sameness. I had a fine supply of tracts, and sowed the region well. Lymington is quite a considerable place, but I could not get a good photograph of it for you. We went down to the quay, and took the steamboat to Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight. It was about thirty minutes' steaming, and we saw Hurst Castle and the Needles to the right of us. Yarmouth is a poor little place, but we walked along the beach, and sat down for a while, and enjoyed the lovely view. Fine yachts went sailing by, and porpoises were in great plenty. After being kept in by the wet, the lovely weather of to-day is doubly pleasing. Returning to Lymington at seven o'clock, we then drove back to Lyndhurst, where I found a very specially sweet note from my beloved awaiting me. I am so glad you like the photo. It gives me real delight to afford you pleasure. I feel wonderfully well. My precious one, may the Lord give thee restoration also, and make thee happy with me in journeys yet to be planned! How I should rejoice to show you about this grand forest, the noblest in all England.
Yesterday afternoon was spent most deliciously. We drove along the Christchurch Road, and took the photographer and his apparatus with us, hoping to secure some charming pictures. Our purpose was, however, thwarted by the absence of the sun, for he kept behind a cloud. We then sent back the carriage, and followed on foot the little brook called the Millifont, in all its winding ways. Ah! my darling, what choice bits we came across! Here, the water had worn out the earth from under the trees, and left bare a wattling of roots; there, in another place, clustered the water-lilies, and the green leaves with which they paved the brook. At one moment, we were on a sand island in the middle of the rivulet; at another, the bank was high above the water, like the Rhine hills, in miniature, above that mighty flood. Strange moths and dragon-flies frequented the pools and lakelets, and here and there a fish leaped out, while shoals of minnows flashed away when our shadows fell upon them. We crossed the current upon a single fit tree, rough and unsquared; if we had tumbled into the water, it would not have mattered much, except that we could not quickly have changed our clothes. All this walk was in solitude, among great trees. It was so singular to sit down in the silence, broken only by the warble of the brook's liquid notes, or by the noise of a moving bird, or the scream of a water-fowl, or the surprise of hearing a great crack, such as furniture will give in certain weathers. A dog saluted us with pertinacious barking, and we found his mistress, an artist, sitting down on a sandbank in the stream, sketching. The dog evidently felt that he was her protector, but I do not think we should have seen the lady if he had not called our attention to her presence. Oh! it was delicious to lie on a bed of moss, beneath a shady beech, with ferns and foxgloves all around, and the water rippling at one's feet! it was balm and cordial to me.
Bishop's Waltham.-We left delightful Lyndhurst at about nine o'clock this morning, and drove along a charming road till we reached Southampton, and crossed by the horse-ferry to go to Netley, and explore the ruins of its Abbey. Certainly, no place could be more congenial for an hour or so of rest. One can clamber up to the top in some places, especially in the South transept, where there is a walk on a sort of narrow ledge under the arches below the window. I was greatly interested, but could only keep on saying to myself, 'How I wish my dear wifey, were here!' From there we went to see the Victoria Hospital, driving along by the edge of Southampton Water--such a fine drive! The Hospital is the longest building in England; I should think it is, nearly half a mile long. Then we went over the hills to Botley, where the views are boundless, and so on to this queer old town. We have been wandering among the ruins of a castle-palace, where Henry II. and Coeur-de-Lion have feasted in the days gone by. It has been a cool, lovely day, and the way splendid.
Liphook.--We left Waltham this morning, and drove along a ridge which gave us glorious views. We turned off the good roads, and made for Winchester Hill--a great Roman or British earthwork upon an eminence. The tradition is that Winchester once stood here, but I cannot believe it. On the vast Down there are several tumuli; indeed, in the region we traversed to-day, tumuli are as plentiful as blackberries. What air we breathed! How fresh it blew up from the sea! It was a fair requital for the puffing which it cost me to climb the hill! Then we came down to East Meon, where is an ancient church, and then we traversed a long valley between two great ranges of Downs. Such exquisite views! Nobody need go to Switzerland for the sublime! At Petersfield, I found a sweet note from my darling. May all God's blessings be heaped upon her! As the way had been too short for a day's journey, we came on to Liphook this evening, and saw gems of views, which filled us with admiration. Here is a great inn, of ancient date, stately and roomy. It is mentioned by old Pepys; but since the coaching days, its glories have departed, though it still remains comfortable and vast. I am now looking forward to my work, and hope to keep on for a long time.
Ockley.--We strolled into the park, and sat on a fallen tree. Presently, a squirrel came and peeped at us, and not knowing our faces, he scudded away, and went up a beech. Anon he came down again, waving his tail on high, and passed us to another tree. Then came a doe and fawn, and stood and stared; and others followed, and in Indian file went slowly off. It became cold, so we trotted in to tea; and this done, I pen a line to my darling, almost the last she will get before my return.
A dear little note has just come from you, and rejoiced my heart. What joy to meet my beloved again, and find her better! On Sunday, we went and sat with the Quakers, and created an event. A portly female was moved to speak, and also to admonish us against water-baptism! She was one of the old school, and evidently relieved her soul by her exhortation. In the afternoon, we had a fine storm and refreshing rain, and I revised a sermon, and wrote on a Psalm. Receive a great flood-tide of love from my heart to yours. May God bless us in returning to each other's beloved society, and spare us for many years to one another!