Dr. John Aiken and Mrs. Anna Letitia Barbauld

"Well, Robert, where have you been walking this afternoon?"

said Mr. Andrews to one of his pupils at the close of a holiday.

_R_. I have been, sir, to Broom Heath, and so around by the

windmill upon Camp Mount, and home through the meadows by the

river side.

_Mr. A_. Well, that's a pleasant round.

_R_. I thought it very dull, sir; I scarcely met with a single

person. I had rather by half have gone along the turnpike road.

_Mr. A_. Why, if seeing men and horses is your object, you would,

indeed, be better entertained on the high road. But did you see William?

_R_. We set out together, but he lagged behind in the lane, so I

walked on, and left him.

_Mr. A_. That was a pity. He would have been company for


_R_. O, he is so tedious, always stopping to look at this thing

and that! I had rather walk alone. I dare say he is not got home


_Mr. A_. Here he comes. Well, William, where have you been?

_W_. O, sir, the pleasantest walk! I went all over Broom Heath,

and so up to the mill at the top of the hill, and then down among

the green meadows by the side of the river.

_Mr. A_. Why, that is just the round Robert has been taking, and

he complains of its dullness, and prefers the high road.

_W_. I wonder at that. I am sure I hardly took a step that did

not delight me, and I brought home my handkerchief full of


_Mr. A_. Suppose, then, you give us some account of what amused

you so much. I fancy it will be as new to Robert as to me.

_W_. I will, sir. The lane leading to the heath, you know, is

close and sandy, so I did not mind it much, but made the best of my

way. However, I spied a curious thing enough in the hedge. It was an

old crab-tree, out of which grew a great bunch of something green,

quite different from the tree itself. Here is a branch of it.

_Mr. A_. Ah! this is mistletoe, a plant of great fame for the

use made of it by the Druids of old in their religious rites and

incantations. It bears a very slimy white berry, of which birdlime

may be made, whence its Latin name of _viscus_, It is one of

those plants which do not grow in the ground by a root of their own,

but fix themselves upon other plants; whence they have been humorously

styled parasitical, as being hangers-on or dependants. It was the

mistletoe of the oak that the Druids particularly honored.

_W_. A little further on I saw a green woodpecker fly to a tree,

and run up the trunk like a cat.

_Mr. A_. That was to seek for insects in the bark, on which they

live. They bore holes with their strong bills for that purpose, and

do much damage to the trees by it.

_W_. What beautiful birds they are!

_Mr. A_. Yes; they have been called from their color and size,

the English parrot.

_W_. When I got upon the open heath, how charming it was! The

air seemed so fresh, and the prospect on every side so free and

unbounded! Then it was all covered with gay flowers, many of which

I had never observed before. There were at least three kinds of

heath (I have got them in my handkerchief here), and gorse, and

broom, and bell-flower, and many others of all colors, that I will

beg you presently to tell me the names of.

_Mr. A_. That I will readily.

_W_. I saw, too, several birds that were new to me. There was

a pretty grayish one, of the size of a lark, that was hopping about

some great stones; and when he flew he showed a great deal of white

above his tail.

_Mr. A_. That was a wheat-ear. They are reckoned very delicious

birds to eat, and frequent the open downs in Sussex, and some other

counties, in great numbers.

_W_. There was a flock of lapwings upon a marshy part of the

heath, that amused me much. As I came near them, some of them

kept flying round and round just over my head, and crying "pewit"

so distinctly one might almost fancy they spoke. I thought I should

have caught one of them, for he flew as if one of his wings was

broken, and often tumbled close to the ground; but, as I came near,

he always made a shift to get away.

_Mr. A_. Ha, ha! you were finely taken in, then! This was all an

artifice of the bird's to entice you away from its nest; for they

build upon the bare ground, and their nests would easily be observed,

did they not draw off the attention of intruders by their loud

cries and counterfeit lameness.

_W_. I wish I had known that, for he led me a long chase, often

over shoes in water. However, it was the cause of my falling in with

an old man and a boy who were cutting and piling up turf for fuel,

and I had a good deal of talk with them about the manner of preparing

the turf, and the price it sells at. They gave me, too, a

creature I never saw before,--a young viper, which they had just

killed, together with its dam. I have seen several common snakes,

but this is thicker in proportion and of a darker color than they are.

_Mr. A_. True. Vipers frequent those turfy boggy grounds, and I

have known several turf-cutters bitten by them.

_W_. They are very venomous, are they not?

_Mr. A_. Enough so to make their wounds painful and dangerous,

though they seldom prove fatal.

_W_. Well--I then took my course up to the windmill on the

mount. I climbed up the steps of the mill in order to get a better

view of the country round. What an extensive prospect! I counted

fifteen church steeples, and I saw several gentlemen's houses peeping

out from the midst of green woods and plantations; and I could

trace the windings of the river all along the low grounds, till it was

lost behind a ridge of hills. But I'll tell you what I mean to do,

sir, if you will give me leave.

_Mr. A_. What is that?

_W_. I will go again, and take with me Carey's county map, by

which I shall probably be able to make out most of the places.

_Mr. A_. You shall have it, and I will go with you, and take my

pocket spying-glass.

_W_. I shall be very glad of that. Well--a thought struck me,

that as the hill is called Camp Mount, there might probably be some

remains of ditches and mounds with which I have read that camps

were surrounded. And I really believe I discovered something of

that sort running round one side of the mount.

_Mr. A_. Very likely you might. I know antiquaries have described

such remains as existing there, which some suppose to be

Roman, others Danish. We will examine them further, when we


_W_. From the hill I went straight down to the meadows below,

and walked on the side of a brook that runs into the river. It was

all bordered with reeds and flags, and tall flowering plants, quite

different from those I had seen on the heath. As I was getting

down the bank co reach one of them, I heard something plunge into

the water near me. It was a large water-rat, and I saw it swim

over to the other side, and go into its hole. There were a great

many large dragon-flies all about the stream. I caught one of the

finest, and have him here in a leaf. But how I longed to catch a

bird that I saw hovering over the water, and every now and then

darting down into it! It was all over a mixture of the most beautiful

green and blue, with some orange color. It was somewhat less

than a thrush, and had a large head and bill, and a short tail.

_Mr. A_. I can tell you what that bird was--a kingfisher, the

celebrated halcyon of the ancients, about which so many tales are

told. It lives on fish, which it catches in the manner you saw. It

builds in holes in the banks, and is a shy, retired bird, never to be

seen far from the stream where it inhabits.

_W_. I must try to get another sight of him, for I never saw a bird

that pleased me so much. Well--I followed this little brook till

it entered the river, and then took the path that runs along the bank.

On the opposite side I observed several little birds running along the

shore, and making a piping noise. They were brown and white, and

about as big as a snipe.

_Mr. A_. I suppose they were sandpipers, one of the numerous

family of birds that get their living by wading among the shallows,

and picking up worms and insects.

W. There were a great many swallows, too, sporting upon the

surface of the water, that entertained me with their motions. Sometimes

they dashed into the stream; sometimes they pursued one another

so quick, that the eye could scarcely follow them. In one

place, where a high, steep sandbank rose directly above the river, I

observed many of them go in and out of holes with which the bank

was bored full.

_Mr. A_. Those were sand martins, the smallest of our species of

swallows. They are of a mouse-color above, and white beneath.

They make their nests and bring up their young in these holes, which

run a great depth, and by their situation are secure from all


_W_. A little further on I saw a man in a boat, who was catching

eels in an odd way. He had a long pole, with broad iron prongs at

the end, just like Neptune's trident, only there were five instead of

three. This he pushed straight down among the mud, in the deepest

parts of the river, and fetched up the eels, sticking between the


_Mr. A_. I have seen this method. It is called spearing of eels.

_W_. While I was looking at him, a heron came flying over my

head, with his large flagging wings. He lit at the next turn of the

river, and I crept softly behind the bank to watch his motions. He

had waded into the water as far as his long legs would carry him,

and was standing with his neck drawn in, looking intently on the

stream. Presently he darted his long bill as quick as lightning into

the water, and drew out a fish, which he swallowed. I saw him

catch another in the same manner. He then took alarm at some

noise I made, and flew away slowly to a wood at some distance,

where he alighted.

_Mr. A_. Probably his nest was there, for herons build upon the

loftiest trees they can find, and sometimes in society together, like

rooks. Formerly, when these birds were valued for the amusement

of hawking, many gentlemen had their heronries, and a few are still


_W_. I think they are the largest wild birds we have.

_Mr. A_. They are of a great length and spread of wing, but their

bodies are comparatively small.

_W_. I then turned homeward across the meadows, where I stopped

awhile to look at a large flock of starlings, which kept flying about

at no great distance. I could not tell at first what to make of them;

for they rose all together from the ground as thick as a swarm of

bees, and formed themselves into a kind of black cloud, hovering

over the field. After taking a short round, they settled again, and

presently rose again in the same manner. I dare say there were

hundreds of them.

_Mr. A_. Perhaps so; for in the fenny countries their flocks are

so numerous, as to break down whole acres of reeds by settling on

them. This disposition of starlings to fly in close swarms was observed

even by Homer, who compares the foe flying from one of his heroes to a

_cloud_ of stares retiring dismayed at the approach of the hawk.

_W_. After I had left the meadows, I crossed the corn-fields in

the way to our house, and passed close by a deep marle pit. Looking

into it, I saw in one of the sides a cluster of what I took to be

shells; and upon going down, I picked up a clod of marle, which

was quite full of them; but how sea-shells could get there, I cannot


_Mr. A_. I do not wonder at your surprise, since many philosophers

have been much perplexed to account for the same appearance. It is not

uncommon to find great quantities of shells and relics of marine

animals even in the bowels of high mountains, very remote from the sea.

They are certainly proofs that the earth was once in a very different

state from what it is at present; but in what manner and how long ago

these changes took place can only be guessed at.

_W_. I got to the high field next our house just as the sun was

setting, and I stood looking at it till it was quite lost. What a

glorious sight! The clouds were tinged purple and crimson and

yellow of all shades and hues, and the clear sky varied from blue to

a fine green at the horizon. But how large the sun appears just as it

sets! I think it seems twice as big as when it is overhead.

_Mr. A_. It does so; and you may probably have observed the

same apparent enlargement of the moon at its rising.

_W_. I have; but pray what is the reason of this?

_Mr. A_. It is an optical deception, depending upon principles

which I cannot well explain to you till you know more of that

branch of science. But what a number of new ideas this afternoon's

walk has afforded you! I do not wonder that you found it

amusing; it has been very instructive, too. Did _you_ see nothing

of all these sights, Robert?

_R_. I saw some of them, but I did not take particular notice of


_Mr. A_. Why not?

_R_. I don't know. I did not care about them, and I made the

best of my way home.

_Mr. A_. That would have been right if you had been sent of a

message; but as you only walked for amusement, it would have been

wiser to have sought out as many sources of it as possible. But so

it is--one man walks through the world with his eyes open, and

another with them shut; and upon this difference depends all the

superiority of knowledge the one acquires above the other. I have

known sailors, who had been in all the quarters of the world, and

could tell you nothing but the signs of the tippling-houses they

frequented in different ports, and the price and quality of the liquor.

On the other hand, a Franklin could not cross the Channel, without

making some observations useful to mankind. While many a vacant,

thoughtless youth is whirled throughout Europe without gaining

a single idea worth crossing a street for, the observing eye and

inquiring mind find matter of improvement and delight in every

ramble in town or country. Do _you_, then, William, continue to

make use of your eyes; and _you_, Robert, learn that eyes were

given you to use.

EVA'S VISIT TO FAIRY-LAND. FANNY'S TELEPHONE ORDER. facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail