List Of Contents | Contents of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
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the first place, there is no bar-room, and consequently no loafers or
pimps, or fumes of tobacco or whiskey; then there is no landlord or
proprietor or hotel clerk to lord it over you. The host, if there is
such a person, has a way of keeping himself in the background, or
absolutely out of sight, that is entirely admirable. You are monarch of
all you survey. You are not made to feel that it is in some one else's
house you are staying, and that you must court the master for his
favor. It is your house, you are the master, and you have only to enjoy
your own.

In the gray, misty afternoon, I walked out over the Avon, like all
English streams full to its grassy brim, and its current betrayed only
by a floating leaf or feather, and along English fields and roads, and
noted the familiar sights and sounds and smells of autumn. The spire of
the church where Shakespeare lies buried shot up stately and tall from
the banks of the Avon, a little removed from the village; and the
church itself, more like a cathedral in size and beauty, was also
visible above the trees. Thitherward I soon bent my steps, and while I
was lingering among the graves*, reading the names and dates so many
centuries old, and surveying the gray and weather-worn exterior of the
church, the slow tolling of the bell announced a funeral. Upon such a
stage, and amid such surroundings, with all this past for a background,
the shadowy figure of the peerless bard towering over all, the incident
of the moment had a strange interest to me, and I looked about for the
funeral cortege. Presently a group of three or four figures appeared at
the head of the avenue of limes, the foremost of them a woman, bearing
an infant's coffin under her arm, wrapped in a white sheet. The clerk
and sexton, with their robes on, went out to meet them, and conducted
them into the church, where the service proper to such occasions was
read, after which the coffin was taken out as it was brought in, and
lowered into the grave. It was the smallest funeral I ever saw, and my
effort to play the part of a sympathizing public by hovering in the
background, I fear, was only an intrusion after all.

[* Footnote: In England the church always stands in the midst of the
graveyard, and hence can be approached only on foot. People it seems,
never go to church in carriages or wagons, but on foot, along paths and

Having loitered to my heart's content amid the stillness of the old
church, and paced to and fro above the illustrious dead, I set out,
with the sun about an hour high, to see the house of Anne Hathaway at
Shottery, shunning the highway and following a path that followed
hedge-rows, crossed meadows and pastures, skirted turnip-fields and
cabbage-patches, to a quaint gathering of low thatched houses,--a
little village of farmers and laborers, about a mile from Stratford. At
the gate in front of the house a boy was hitching a little gray donkey,
almost hidden beneath two immense panniers filled with coarse hay.

"Whose house is this?" inquired I, not being quite able to make out the

"Hann' Ataway's 'ouse," said he.

So I took a good look at Anne's house,--a homely, human-looking
habitation, with its old oak beams and thatched roof,--but did not go
in, as Mrs. Baker, who was eying me from the door, evidently hoped I
would, but chose rather to walk past it and up the slight rise of
ground beyond, where I paused and looked out over the fields, just lit
up by the setting sun. Returning, I stepped into the Shakespeare
Tavern, a little, homely wayside place on a street, or more like a
path, apart from the main road, and the good dame brought me some
"home-brewed," which I drank sitting by a rude table on a rude bench in
a small, low room, with a stone floor and an immense chimney. The coals
burned cheerily, and the crane and hooks in the fireplace called up
visions of my earliest childhood. Apparently the house and the
surroundings, and the atmosphere of the place and the ways of the
people, were what they were three hundred years ago. It was all sweet
and good, and I enjoyed it hugely, and was much refreshed.

Crossing the fields in the gloaming, I came up with some children, each
with a tin bucket of milk, threading their way toward Stratford. The
little girl, a child ten years old, having a larger bucket than the
rest, was obliged to set down her burden every few rods and rest; so I
lent her a helping hand. I thought her prattle, in that broad but
musical patois, and along these old hedge-rows, the most delicious I
ever heard. She said they came to Shottery for milk because it was much
better than they got at Stratford. In America they had a cow of their
own. Had she lived in America, then? "Oh, yes, four years," and the
stream of her talk was fuller at once. But I hardly recognized even the
name of my own country in her innocent prattle; it seemed like a land
of fable,--all had a remote mythological air, and I pressed my
inquiries as if I was hearing of this strange land for the first time.
She had an uncle still living in the "States of Hoio," but exactly
where her father had lived was not so clear. In the States somewhere,
and in "Ogden's Valley." There was a lake there that had salt in it,
and not far off was the sea. "In America," she said, and she gave such
a sweet and novel twang to her words, "we had a cow of our own, and two
horses and a wagon and a dog." "Yes," joined in her little brother,
"and nice chickens and a goose." "But," continued the sister, "we owns
none o' them here. In America 'most everybody owned their houses, and
we could 'a' owned a house if we had stayid."

"What made you leave America?" I inquired.

"'Cause me father wanted to see his friends."

"Did your mother want to come back?"

"No, me mother wanted to stay in America."

"Is food as plenty here,--do you have as much to eat as in the

"Oh, yes, and more.  The first year we were in America we could not get
enough to eat."

"But you do not get meat very often here, do you?"

"Quite often,"--not so confidently.

"How often?"

"Well, sometimes we has pig's liver in the week time, and we allers has
meat of a Sunday; we likes meat."

Here we emerged from the fields into the highway, and the happy
children went their way and I mine.

In the evening, as I was strolling about the town, a poor, crippled,
half-witted fellow came jerking himself across the street after me and
offered himself as a guide.

"I'm the Teller what showed Artemus Ward around when he was here.
You've heerd on me, I expect? Not? Why, he characterized me in
'Punch,' he did. He asked me if Shakespeare took all the wit out of
Stratford? And this is what I said to him: `No, he left some for me.'"

But not wishing to be guided just then, I bought the poor fellow off
with a few pence, and kept on my way.

Stratford is a quiet old place, and seems mainly the abode of simple
common folk. One sees no marked signs of either poverty or riches. It
is situated in a beautiful expanse of rich, rolling farming country,
but bears little resemblance to a rural town in America: not a tree,
not a spear of grass; the houses packed close together and crowded up
on the street, the older ones presenting their gables and showing their
structure of oak beams. English oak seems incapable of decay even when
exposed to the weather, while indoors it takes three or four centuries
to give it its best polish and hue.

I took my last view of Stratford quite early of a bright Sunday
morning, when the ground was white with a dense hoar-frost. The great
church, as I approached it, loomed up under the sun through a bank of
blue mist. The Avon was like glass, with little wraiths of vapor
clinging here and there to its surface. Two white swans stood on its
banks in front of the church, and, without regarding the mirror that so
drew my eye, preened their plumage; while, farther up, a piebald cow
reached down for some grass under the brink where the frost had not
settled, and a piebald cow in the river reached up for the same morsel.
Rooks and crows and jackdaws were noisy in the trees overhead and about
the church spire. I stood a long while musing upon the scene.

At the birthplace of the poet, the keeper, an elderly woman, shivered
with cold as she showed me about. The primitive, home-made appearance
of things, the stone floor much worn and broken, the rude oak beams and
doors, the leaden sash with the little window-panes scratched full of
names, among others that of Walter Scott, the great chimneys where
quite a family could literally sit in the chimney corner, were what I
expected to see, and looked very human and good. It is impossible to
associate anything but sterling qualities and simple, healthful
characters with these early English birthplaces. They are nests built
with faithfulness and affection, and through them one seems to get a
glimpse of devouter, sturdier times.

From Stratford I went back to Warwick, thence to Birmingham, thence to
Shrewsbury, thence to Chester, the old Roman camp, thence to Holyhead,
being intent on getting a glimpse of Wales and the Welsh, and maybe
taking a tramp up Snowdon or some of his congeners, for my legs
literally ached for a mountain climb, a certain set of muscles being so
long unused. In the course of my journeyings, I tried each class or
compartment of the cars, first, second, and third, and found but little
choice. The difference is simply in the upholstering, and, if you are
provided with a good shawl or wrap-up, you need not be particular about
that. In the first, the floor is carpeted and the seats substantially
upholstered, usually in blue woolen cloth; in the second, the seat
alone is cushioned; and in the third, you sit on a bare bench. But all
classes go by the same train, and often in the same car, or carriage,
as they say here. In the first class travel the real and the shoddy
nobility and Americans; in the second, commercial and professional men;
and in the third, the same, with such of the peasantry and humbler
classes as travel by rail. The only annoyance I experienced in the
third class arose from the freedom with which the smokers, always
largely in the majority, indulged in their favorite pastime. (I
perceive there is one advantage in being a smoker: you are never at a
loss for something to do,--you can smoke.)

At Chester I stopped overnight, selecting my hotel for its name, the
"Green Dragon." It was Sunday night, and the only street scene my
rambles afforded was quite a large gathering of persons on a corner,
listening, apparently with indifference or curiosity, to an ignorant,
hot-headed street preacher. "Now I am going to tell you something you
will not like to hear, something that will make you angry. I know it
will. It is this: I expect to go to heaven. I am perfectly confident I
shall go there. I know you do not like that." But why his hearers
should not like that did not appear. For my part, I thought, for the
good of all concerned, the sooner he went the better.

In the morning, I mounted the wall in front of the cathedral, and, with
a very lively feeling of wonder and astonishment, walked completely
around the town on top of it, a distance of about two miles. The wall,
being in places as high as the houses, afforded some interesting views
into attics, chambers, and back yards. I envied the citizens such a
delightful promenade ground, full of variety and interest. Just the
right distance, too, for a brisk turn to get up an appetite, or for a
leisurely stroll to tone down a dinner; while as a place for chance
meetings of happy lovers, or to get away from one's companions if the
flame must burn in secret and in silence, it is unsurpassed. I
occasionally met or passed other pedestrians, but noticed that it
required a brisk pace to lessen the distance between myself and an
attractive girlish figure a few hundred feet in advance of me. The
railroad cuts across one corner of the town, piercing the walls with
two very carefully constructed archways. Indeed, the people are very
choice of the wall, and one sees posted notices of the city authorities
offering a reward for any one detected in injuring it. It has stood now
some seven or eight centuries, and from appearances is good for one or
two more. There are several towers on the wall, from one of which some
English king, over two hundred years ago, witnessed the defeat of his
army on Rowton Moor. But when I was there, though the sun was shining,
the atmosphere was so loaded with smoke that I could not catch even a
glimpse of the moor where the battle took place. There is a gateway
through the wall on each of the four sides, and this slender and
beautiful but blackened and worn span, as if to afford a transit from
the chamber windows on one side of the street to those of the other, is
the first glimpse the traveler gets of the wall. The gates beneath the
arches have entirely disappeared. The ancient and carved oak fronts of
the buildings on the main street, and the inclosed sidewalk that ran
through the second stories of the shops and stores, were not less
strange and novel to me. The sidewalk was like a gentle upheaval in its
swervings and undulations, or like a walk through the woods, the oaken
posts and braces on the outside answering for the trees, and the
prospect ahead for the vista.

The ride along the coast of Wales was crowded with novelty and
interest,--the sea on one side and the mountains on the other,--the
latter bleak and heathery in the foreground, but cloud-capped and
snow-white in the distance. The afternoon was dark and lowering, and
just before entering Conway we had a very striking view. A turn in the
road suddenly brought us to where we looked through a black framework
of heathery hills, and beheld Snowdon and his chiefs apparently with
the full rigors of winter upon them. It was so satisfying that I lost
at once my desire to tramp up them. I barely had time to turn from the
mountains to get a view of Conway Castle, one of the largest and most
impressive ruins I saw. The train cuts close to the great round tower,
and plunges through the wall of gray, shelving stone into the bluff
beyond, giving the traveler only time to glance and marvel.

About the only glimpse I got of the Welsh character was on this route.
At one of the stations, Abergele I think, a fresh, blooming young woman
got into our compartment, occupied by myself and two commercial
travelers (bag-men, or, as we say, "drummers"), and, before she could
take her seat, was complimented by one of them on her good looks.
Feeling in a measure responsible for the honor and good-breeding of the
compartment, I could hardly conceal my embarrassment; but the young
Abergeless herself did not seem to take it amiss, and when presently
the jolly bag-man addressed his conversation to her, replied
beseemingly and good-naturedly. As she arose to leave the car at her
destination, a few stations beyond, he said "he thought it a pity that
such a sweet, pretty girl should leave us so soon," and seizing her
hand the audacious rascal actually solicited a kiss. I expected this
would be the one drop too much, and that we should have a scene, and

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