List Of Contents | Contents of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
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"sudden burst," which is like the song of our water-thrush.

I have little doubt our songsters excel in melody, while the European
birds excel in profuseness and volubility. I heard many bright,
animated notes and many harsh ones, but few that were melodious. This
fact did not harmonize with the general drift of the rest of my
observations, for one of the first things that strikes an American in
Europe is the mellowness and rich tone of things. The European is
softer-voiced than the American and milder-mannered, but the bird
voices seem an exception to this rule.


While in London I had much pleasure in strolling through the great
parks, Hyde Park, Regent's Park, St. James Park, Victoria Park, and in
making Sunday excursions to Richmond Park, Hampden Court Parks, and the
great parks at Windsor Castle. The magnitude of all these parks was
something I was entirely unprepared for, and their freedom also; one
could roam where he pleased. Not once did I see a signboard, "Keep off
the grass," or go here or go there. There was grass enough, and one
could launch out in every direction without fear of trespassing on
forbidden ground. One gets used, at least I do, to such petty parks at
home, and walks amid them so cautiously and circumspectly, every shrub
and tree and grass plat saying "Hands off," that it is a new sensation
to enter a city pleasure ground like Hyde Park,--a vast natural
landscape, nearly two miles long and a mile wide, with broad, rolling
plains, with herds of sheep grazing, and forests and lakes, and all as
free as the air. He have some quite sizable parks and reservations in
Washington, and the citizen has the right of way over their tortuous
gravel walks, but he puts his foot upon the grass at the risk of being
insolently hailed by the local police. I have even been called to order
for reclining upon a seat under a tree in the Smithsonian grounds. I
must sit upright as in church. But in Hyde Park or Regent's Park I
could not only walk upon the grass, but lie upon it, or roll upon it,
or play "one catch all" with children, boys, dogs, or sheep upon it;
and I took my revenge for once for being so long confined to gravel
walks, and gave the grass an opportunity to grow under my foot whenever
I entered one of these parks.

This free-and-easy rural character of the London parks is quite in
keeping with the tone and atmosphere of the great metropolis itself,
which in so many respects has a country homeliness and sincerity, and
shows the essentially bucolic taste of the people; contrasting in this
respect with the parks and gardens of Paris, which show as unmistakably
the citizen and the taste for art and the beauty of design and
ornamentation. Hyde Park seems to me the perfection of a city pleasure
ground of this kind, because it is so free and so thoroughly a piece of
the country, and so exempt from any petty artistic displays.

In walking over Richmond Park I found I had quite a day's work before
me, as it was like traversing a township; while the great park at
Windsor Castle, being upwards of fifty miles around, might well make
the boldest pedestrian hesitate. My first excursion was to Hampton
Court, an old royal residence, where I spent a delicious October day
wandering through Bushy Park, and looking with covetous, though
admiring eyes upon the vast herds of deer that dotted the plains, or
gave way before me as I entered the woods. There seemed literally to be
many thousands of these beautiful animals in this park, and the loud,
hankering sounds of the bucks, as they pursued or circled around the
does, was a new sound to my ears. The rabbits and pheasants also were
objects of the liveliest interest to me, and I found that after all a
good shot at them with the eye, especially when I could credit myself
with alertness or stealthiness, was satisfaction enough.

I thought it worthy of note that, though these great parks in and about
London were so free, and apparently without any police regulations
whatever, yet I never saw prowling about them any of those vicious,
ruffianly looking characters that generally infest the neighborhood of
our great cities, especially of a Sunday. There were troops of boys,
but they were astonishingly quiet and innoxious, very unlike American
boys, white or black, a band of whom making excursions into the country
are always a band of outlaws. Ruffianism with us is no doubt much more
brazen and pronounced, not merely because the law is lax, but because
such is the genius of the people.


England is a mellow country, and the English people are a mellow
people. They have hung on the tree of nations a long time, and will, no
doubt, hang as much longer; for windfalls, I reckon, are not the order
in this island. We are pitched several degrees higher in this country.
By contrast, things here are loud, sharp, and garish. Our geography is
loud; the manners of the people are loud; our climate is loud, very
loud, so dry and sharp, and full of violent changes and contrasts; and
our goings-out and comings-in as a nation are anything but silent. Do
we not occasionally give the door an extra slam just for effect?

In England everything is on a lower key, slower, steadier, gentler.
Life is, no doubt, as full, or fuller, in its material forms and
measures, but less violent and aggressive. The buffers the English have
between their cars to break the shock are typical of much one sees

All sounds are softer in England; the surface of things is less hard.
The eye of day and the face of Nature are less bright. Everything has a
mellow, subdued cast. There is no abruptness in the landscape, no sharp
and violent contrasts, no brilliant and striking tints in the foliage.
A soft, pale yellow is all one sees in the way of tints along the
borders of the autumn woods. English apples (very small and inferior,
by the way) are not so highly colored as ours. The blackberries, just
ripening in October, are less pungent and acid; and the garden
vegetables, such as cabbage, celery, cauliflower, beet, and other root
crops, are less rank and fibrous; and I am very sure that the meats
also are tenderer and sweeter. There can be no doubt about the
superiority of English mutton; and the tender and succulent grass, and
the moist and agreeable climate, must tell upon the beef also.

English coal is all soft coal, and the stone is soft stone.  The
foundations of the hills are chalk instead of granite. The stone with
which most of the old churches and cathedrals are built would not
endure in our climate half a century; but in Britain the tooth of Time
is much blunter, and the hunger of the old man less ravenous, and the
ancient architecture stands half a millennium, or until it is slowly
worn away by the gentle attrition of the wind and rain.

At Chester, the old Roman wall that surrounds the town, built in the
first century and repaired in the ninth, is still standing without a
break or a swerve, though in some places the outer face of the wall is
worn through. The Cathedral, and St. John's Church, in the same town,
present to the beholder outlines as jagged and broken as rocks and
cliffs; and yet it is only chip by chip, or grain by grain, that ruin
approaches. The timber also lasts an incredibly long time. Beneath one
of the arched ways, in the Chester wall above referred to, I saw
timbers that must have been in place five or six hundred years. The
beams in the old houses, also fully exposed to the weather, seem
incapable of decay; those dating from Shakespeare's time being
apparently as firm as ever.

I noticed that the characteristic aspect of the clouds in England was
different from ours,--soft, fleecy, vapory, indistinguishable,--never
the firm, compact, sharply, defined, deeply dyed masses and fragments
so common in our own sky. It rains easily but slowly. The average
rainfall of London is less than that of New York, and yet it doubtless
rains ten days in the former to one in the latter. Storms accompanied
with thunder are rare; while the crashing, wrenching, explosive
thunder-gusts so common with us, deluging the earth and convulsing the
heavens, are seldom known.

In keeping with this elemental control and moderation, I found the
character and manners of the people gentler and sweeter than I had been
led to believe they were. No loudness, brazenness, impertinence; no
oaths, no swaggering, no leering at women, no irreverence, no
flippancy, no bullying, no insolence of porters or clerks or
conductors, no importunity of bootblacks or newsboys, no
omnivorousness, of hackmen,--at least, comparatively none,--all of
which an American is apt to notice, and, I hope, appreciate. In London
the bootblack salutes you with a respectful bow and touches his cap,
and would no more think of pursuing you or answering your refusal than
he would of jumping into the Thames. The same is true of the newsboys.
If they were to scream and bellow in London as they do in New York or
Washington, they would be suppressed by the police, as they ought to
be. The vender of papers stands at the comer of the street, with his
goods in his arms, and a large placard spread out at his feet, giving
in big letters the principal news-headings.

Street-cries of all kinds are less noticeable, less aggressive, than in
this country, and the manners of the shopmen make you feel you are
conferring a benefit instead of receiving one. Even their locomotives
are less noisy than ours, having a shrill, infantile whistle that
contrasts strongly with the loud, demoniac yell that makes a residence
near a railway or a depot, in this country, so unbearable. The trains
themselves move with wonderful smoothness and celerity, making a mere
fraction of the racket made by our flying palaces as they go swaying
and jolting over our hasty, ill-ballasted roads.

It is characteristic of the English prudence and plain dealing, that
they put so little on the cars and so much on the road, while the
reverse process is equally characteristic of American enterprise. Our
railway system no doubt has certain advantages, or rather conveniences,
over the English, but, for my part, I had rather ride smoothly,
swiftly, and safely in a luggage van than be jerked and jolted to
destruction in the velvet and veneering of our palace cars. Upholster
the road first, and let us ride on bare boards until a cushion can be
afforded; not till after the bridges are of granite and iron, and the
rails of steel, do we want this more than aristocratic splendor and
luxury of palace and drawingroom cars. To me there is no more marked
sign of essential vulgarity of the national manners than these princely
cars and beggarly, clap-trap roads. It is like a man wearing a ruffled
and jeweled shirtfront, but too poor to afford a shirt itself.

I have said the English are a sweet and mellow people.  There is,
indeed, a charm about these ancestral races that goes to the heart. And
herein was one of the profoundest surprises of my visit, namely, that,
in coming from the New World to the Old, from a people the most
recently out of the woods of any, to one of the ripest and venerablest
of the European nationalities, I should find a race more simple,
youthful, and less sophisticated than the one I had left behind me. Yet
this was my impression. We have lost immensely in some things, and what
we have gained is not yet so obvious or so definable. We have lost in
reverence, in homeliness, in heart and conscience,--in virtue, using
the word in its proper sense. To some, the difference which I note may
appear a difference in favor of the great cuteness, wideawakeness, and
enterprise of the American, but it is simply a difference expressive of
our greater forwardness. We are a forward people, and the god we
worship is Smartness. In one of the worst tendencies of the age,
namely, an impudent, superficial, journalistic intellectuality and
glibness, America, in her polite and literary circles, no doubt leads
all other nations. English books and newspapers show more homely
veracity, more singleness of purpose, in short more character, than
ours. The great charm of such a man as Darwin, for instance, is his
simple manliness and transparent good faith, and the absence in him of
that finical, self-complacent smartness which is the bane of our

The poet Clough thought the New England man more simple than the man of
Old England. Hawthorne, on the other hand, seemed reluctant to admit
that the English were a "franker and simpler people, from peer to
peasant," than we are; and that they had not yet wandered so far from
that "healthful and primitive simplicity in which man was created" as
have their descendants in America. My own impression accords with
Hawthorne's. We are a more alert and curious people, but not so
simple,--not so easily angered, nor so easily amused. We have partaken
more largely of the fruit of the forbidden tree. The English have more
of the stay-at-home virtues, which, on the other hand, they no doubt
pay pretty well for by their more insular tendencies.

The youths and maidens seemed more simple, with their softer and less
intellectual faces. When I returned from Paris, the only person in the
second-class compartment of the car with me, for a long distance, was
an English youth eighteen or twenty years old, returning home to London
after an absence of nearly a year, which he had spent as waiter in a
Parisian hotel. He was born in London and had spent nearly his whole
life there, where his mother, a widow, then lived. He talked very
freely with me, and told me his troubles, and plans, and hopes, as if
we had long known each other. What especially struck me in the youth
was a kind of sweetness and innocence--perhaps what some would call
"greenness"--that at home I had associated only with country boys, and
not even with them latterly. The smartness and knowingness and a
certain hardness or keenness of our city youths,--there was no trace of
it at all in this young Cockney. But he liked American travelers better
than those from his own country. They were more friendly and
communicative,--were not so afraid to speak to "a fellow," and at the
hotel were more easily pleased.

The American is certainly not the grumbler the Englishman is; he is
more cosmopolitan and conciliatory. The Englishman will not adapt
himself to his surroundings; he is not the least bit an imitative
animal; he will be nothing but an Englishman, and is out of place--an
anomaly--in any country but his own. To understand him, you must see
him at home in the British island where he grew, where he belongs,
where he has expressed himself and justified himself, and where his
interior, unconscious characteristics are revealed. There he is quite a
different creature from what he is abroad. There he is "sweet," but he
sours the moment he steps off the island. In this country he is too
generally arrogant, fault-finding, and supercilious. The very traits of
loudness, sharpness, and unleavenedness, which I complain of in our
national manners, he very frequently exemplifies in an exaggerated

The Scotch or German element no doubt fuses and mixes with ours much

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