On my way back to Bath I had a day at Bristol. It was cattle-market day, and what with the bellowings, barkings, and shoutings, added to the buzz and clang of innumerable electric tramcars and the usual din of street traffic, one got the idea that the Bristolians had adopted a sort of Salvation Army theory, and were endeavouring to conquer earth (it is not heaven in this case) by making a tremendous noise. I amused myself strolling about and watching the people, and as train after train came in late in the day discharging loads of humanity, mostly young men and women from the surrounding country coming in for an evening’s amusement, I noticed again the peculiarly Welsh character of the Somerset peasant—the shape of the face, the colour of the skin, and, above all, the expression.
Freeman, when here below, proclaimed it his mission to prove that “Englishmen were Englishmen, and not somebody else.” It appeared to me that any person, unbiassed by theories on such a subject, looking at that crowd, would have come to the conclusion, sadly or gladly, according to his nature, that we are, in fact, “somebody else.”
That “going back” about which I wrote in the second chapter to a place where an unexpected beauty or charm has revealed itself, and has made its image a lasting and prized possession of the mind, is not the same thing as the revisiting a famous town or city, rich in many beauties and old memories, such as Bath or Wells, for instance. Such centres have a permanent attraction, and one who is a rover in the land must return to them again and again, nor does he fail on each successive visit to find some fresh charm or interest. The sadness of such returns, after a long interval, is only, as I have said, when we start “looking up” those with whom we had formed pleasant friendly relations. And all because of the illusion that we shall see them as they were—that Time has stood still waiting for our return, and by and by, to our surprise and grief, we discover that it is not so; that the dear friends of other days, long unvisited but unforgotten, have become strangers. This human loss is felt even more in the case of a return to some small centre, a village or hamlet where we knew every one, and our intimacy with the people has produced the sense of being one in blood with them. It is greatest of all when we return to a childhood’s or boyhood’s home. Many writers have occupied themselves with this mournful theme, and I imagine that a person of the proper Amiel-like tender and melancholy moralizing type of mind, by using his own and his friends’ experiences, could write a charmingly sad and pretty book on the subject.