Yuletide In An Old English City,
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a fresh fall of snow to the ground already thickly covered; and as we cross a wooden bridge immediately on leaving the Coach and Horses, — the half-way house between two market towns in the old country shire, — there is hardly a tree or a cottage in sight. The road on which we are travelling runs unbroken from the Humber to the city of Lincoln. It is as straight to-day as if a crow had mapped it out in its flight, and so regular in its undulations that it is evident the Romans, as they formed it, sank the ground at intervals for the purpose of protecting and hiding their encampments as they approached the capital, then the most flourishing city in England. On this same road Alfred Tennyson often travelled in boyhood's days on frequent visits to Lincoln minster, in whose aisles be loved to linger. About here be found the subjects for his "Northern Farmer," and from listening to the cathedral bells on New Years eve the inspiration for "The Death of the Old Year."
It is the day before Christmas; market day also, to make it doubly interesting, though most of the beasts have been sold long ago. As we speed along it seems as if not a single stone has been upturned; nay, the same sleepy little villages undisturbed, and even the same faces, appear to encounter us as of yore. It does not require a wide stretch of the imagination to depict the stage and mail coaches of olden times, the driver of each blowing the post born as he pulled up at the wayside inns where the villagers gathered in groups to receive their letters or waited anxiously for news of the latest battle, discussing the probability of a highway robbery having been perpetrated, — which was no uncommon occurrence. Oh, those good old days when letter writing was considered so great an accomplishment that our ancestors would spend weeks in the composition of their missives, taking as much care as the parson with his sermon, hen it took twenty days to carry them a distance of a hundred miles, — and when to receive them was at once to give character and dignity to the recipient Oh, the tender farewells with which friends and relatives parted when setting out on their romantic and hazardous journeys of a few miles on the country road, — the strange elopements, pursuits, captures and villanies incidental to that mode of travelling! But Fielding and Smollett are now out of date, and even the great Thackeray, who loved these good old times, is but little read, except by "old fogies."
One by one we overtake the merry, lazy farmers, who extend a cordial greeting as we pass, and we know that they are following their fat beasts, already miles ahead, and carry in their pockets samples of corn and barley they are ready to bring home again if the bids are not high enough, — in which case their wives and children will fair badly for a Christmas box.
Here, after five or six miles, is a broad Perpendicular church, with a stout, grave spire to the right; the little town, climbing on the left near the top of the hill, and descending to the prosperous, brimming stream that moves silently down the centre of the valley. It does not look as if it would yield many memories to take away, this little town; but to one traveler it recalls a thousand incidents of the past, the cricket and football matches we played in our boyhood, and the journeys across green fields to see the hounds meet before running the fox from his cover. There is the village green on which many a "queen of the May" has been crowned, surrounded by the self-same cottages with thatched roofing, and windows with diamond panes; and there, close by the pump, the old stocks, in which the feet of many a drunken brawler have been locked, to the merriment of the bystanders. There, too, is the modest rectory, prim and neat; and we recall the time when the incumbent was as fond of a gallop across country as the gentry. And there is the magnificent Elizabethan mansion, with a huge flight of steps up to the door, heavy frowning cornices and massive balustrades, and its faint suggestion of oaken paneling within, looking dreary and desolate enough in the snow. Behind it, in among the white houses and up along the hill, lies a garden with its high wall, with cedars and cypresses peeping over in sombre curiosity, and huge