All this leads me away from John Halsham and Idlehurst. A good antidote to his extreme depression is to be found in another beautiful book which, if not a classic, will become one. I mean A Shepherd’s Life, wherein Mr. Hudson reveals the very heart of pastoral Wilts. I went right through it only the other day, journeying from Sarum to Trowbridge on county business—Wishford, Wylye, Codford, Heytesbury, and so on to Melksham and Westbury—names which to us are symphonies. No change from the sempiternal round of country labour in those quiet hollows, though it is true that you saw soldiers in buff unloading railway trucks, and that the valley was lined with their wooden hutments. Soldiers, indeed, we have known ever since the Norman Conquest; but the country is bigger than they are, and they fall into its ways even as their huts fade into the shadows cast by its everlasting hills. Mr. Hudson, by the way, does not seem to have encountered a witch. We had one in this village a few years ago, and she may be here still, though I haven’t come across her. She laid a malison on my chauffeur’s potatoes—I had one once—and (as he told me) blighted the year’s crop. He was digging in his garden when she, a dark-browed old woman with a beard, leaned over the gate and asked him for some kindling wood. He, a Swiss, who may not have understood her, waved her away, saying that he was busy. “You will get no good out of those taters,” said she, and slippered away. That was five years ago.
John Halsham is fond of describing himself as a Tory, and perhaps really is one of those almost extinct mammalia. I had thought Professor Saintsbury the only one left. He, I understand, thinks that the Reform Act of 1832 was a great mistake, and dislikes Horace Walpole’s Letters because their writer was a Whig. Then there is Mrs. Partington’s nephew, who muses perhaps without method, but certainly not without malice, in Blackwood once a month. He is more Jingo than Tory. He has to bite somebody. I was amused the other day to consider his girding at Sir Alfred Mond, chiefly on the score that he had a German grandfather. It did not seem to have occurred to the man that the same terrific charge could be brought against a much more august Personage, and with much the same futility. Surely it is more to the purpose that he will have an English grandson, That is the worst of musing when you neglect method and surrender to malice.
Toryism, which is a parasitic growth of mind, needs a relic to which it can cling, not a person. In the country the Church will not provide it, nor any longer the brewing interest. The air has been let into the one, and the water which they call mineral into the other. There remain the throne and the squirearchy, and of these the throne is much the stouter. For the throne is remote enough to be an object of veneration, separable from its occupant; but when the great house and the old acres are held, and not filled, by a new man, the villager, who sees more than he is supposed to see, is by no means concerned to uphold them. Most of the villages have been Radical; now they are all going “Labour.” The elections, if there are to be some soon, will be very interesting, and I think surprising to Mr. George and his assortment of friends.