And so with that engaging ruffian of the feathered world, the rook. It has no more music in its voice than a tin kettle; but what jollier sound is there on a late February morning than the splendid hubbub of a rookery when the slovenly nests are being built in the naked and swaying branches of the elms? Betsy Trotwood was angry with David Copperfield’s father because he called his house Blunderstone Rookery. “Rookery, indeed!” she said. It is almost the only point of disagreement I have with that admirable woman. Not to love a rookery is prima facie evidence against you. I have heard of men who have bought estates because of the rookery, and I have loved them for their beautiful extravagance. I am sure I should have liked David Copperfield’s father from that solitary incident recorded of him. He was not a very practical or business-like man, I fear; but people who love rookeries rarely are. You cannot expect both the prose and the poetry of life for your endowment.
How much the feeling created by sound depends upon the setting may be illustrated by the bagpipes. The bagpipes in a London street is a thing for ribald laughter, but the bagpipes in a Highland glen is a thing to stir the blood, and make the mind thrill to memories of
Old, unhappy, far off things.
And battles long ago.
It is so even with the humble concertina. That instrument is to me the last expression of musical depravity. It is the torture which Dante would provide for me in the last circle of Hell. But the sound of a concertina on a country road on a dark night is as cheerful a noise as I want to hear. But just as Omar loved the sound of a distant drum, so distance is an essential part of the enchantment of my concertina.
And of all pleasant sounds what is there to excel the music of the hammer and the anvil in the smithy at the entrance to the village? No wonder the children love to stand at the open door and see the burning sparks that fly and hear the bellows roar. I would stand at the open door myself if I had the pluck, for I am as much a child as any one when the hammer and the anvil are playing their primeval music. It is the oldest song of humanity played with the most ancient instruments. Here we are at the very beginning of our story—here we stand in the very dawn of things. What lineage so noble as that of the smith? What task so ancient and so honourable? With such tools the first smith smote music out of labour, and began the conquest of things to the accompaniment of joyous sounds. In those sounds I seem to hear the whole burden of the ages.
I think I will take another stroll down to the village. It will take me past the smithy.
ON SLACKENING THE BOW
I was in a company the other evening in which the talk turned upon the familiar theme of the Government and its fitness for the job in hand. The principal assailant was what I should call a strenuous person. He seemed to suggest that if the conduct of the war had been in the hands of earnest-minded persons—like himself, for example—the business would have been over long ago.