It was market day in Oundle, and I had the pleasure of sitting down to dinner with a large company of farmers and cattle and corn-dealers. They were intelligent, substantial-looking men, with no occupational peculiarity of dress or language to distinguish them from ordinary middle-class gentlemen engaged in trade or manufacture. Indeed, the old-fashioned English farmer, of the great, round, purply-red face, aldermanic stature, and costume of fifty years ago, speaking the dialect of his county with such inimitable accent, is fast going out. I have not seen one during my present sojourn in England. I fear he has disappeared altogether with the old stage-coach, and that we have not pictures enough of him left to give the rising generation any correct notion of what he was, and how he looked. It may be a proper and utilitarian change, but one can hardly notice without regret what transformations the railway regime has wrought in customs and habits which once individualised a country and people. A kind of French centralisation in the world of fashion has been established, which has over-ridden and obliterated all the dress boundaries of civilised nations. All the upper and middle classes of Christendom centre themselves to one focus of taste and merge into one plastic commonwealth, to be shaped and moulded virtually by a common tailor. Their coats, vests, pantaloons, boots and shoes are made substantially after the same pattern. For a while, hats stood out with some show of pluck and patriotism, and made a stand for national individuality, but it was in vain. They, too, succumbed to the inexorable law of Uniformity. That law was liberal in one respect. It did not insist that the stove-pipe form should rule inflexibly. It admitted several variations, including wide-awakes, pliable felts, and that little, squat, lackadaisical, round-crown, narrow-brimmed thing worn by the Prince of Wales in the photographs taken of him and the Princess at Sandringham. But this has come to be the rule: that hats shall no longer represent distinct nationalities; that they shall be interchangeable in all civilised communities; in a word, that neither Englishman, American, French nor German shall be known by his hat, whatever be the form or material of its body or brim. If there were a southern county in England where the mercury stood at 100 degrees in the shade for two or three summer months, the upper classes in it would don, without any hesitation, the wide, flappy broadbrims of California, and still be in the fashion,—that is, variety in uniformity. The peasantry, or the lowest laboring classes of European countries, are now, and will remain perhaps for a century to come, the only conservators of the distinctive national costumes of bygone generations.
During the conversation at the table, a farmer exhibited a head of the Hallett wheat, which he had grown on his land. I never saw anything to equal it, in any country in which I have travelled. It was nearly six inches in length, and seeded large and plump from top to bottom. This is a variety produced by Mr. Hallett, of Brighton, and is creating no little interest among English grain-growers. Lord Burghley, who had tested its properties, thus describes it, in a speech before the Northamptonshire Agricultural Society last summer:—