Penelope's English Experiences

Chapter XVI. The decay of Romance.

I have changed my Belvern, and there are so many others left to choose from that I might live in a different Belvern each week. North, South, East, and West Belvern, New Belvern, Old Belvern, Great Belvern, Little Belvern, Belvern Link, Belvern Common, and Belvern Wells. They are all nestled together in the velvet hollows or on the wooded crowns of the matchless Belvern Hills, from which they look down upon the fairest plains that ever blessed the eye. One can see from their heights a score of market towns and villages, three splendid cathedrals, each in a different county, the queenly Severn winding like a silver thread among the trees, with soft-flowing Avon and gentle Teme watering the verdant meadows through which they pass. All these hills and dales were once the Royal Forest, and afterwards the Royal Chase, of Belvern, covering nearly seven thousand acres in three counties; and from the lonely height of the Beacon no less than

'Twelve fair counties saw the blaze'

of signals, when the country was threatened by a Spanish invasion. As for me, I mourn the decay of Romance with a great R; we have it still among us, but we spell it with a smaller letter. It must be so much more interesting to be threatened with an invasion, especially a Spanish invasion, than with a strike, for instance. The clashing of swords and the flashing of spears in the sunshine are so much more dazzling and inspiring than a line of policemen with clubs! Yes, I wish it were the age of chivalry again, and that I were looking down from these hills into the Royal Chase. Of course I know that there were wicked and selfish tyrants in those days, before the free press, the jury system, and the folding-bed had wrought their beneficent influences upon the common mind and heart. Of course they would have sneered at Browning Societies and improved tenements, and of course they did not care a penny whether woman had the ballot or not, so long as man had the bottle; but I would that the other moderns were enjoying the modern improvements, and that I were gazing into the cool depths of those deep forests where there were once good lairs for the wolf and wild boar. I should like to hear the baying of the hounds and the mellow horns of the huntsman. I should like to see the royal cavalcade emerging from one of those wooded glades: monarch and baron bold, proud prelate, abbot and prior, belted knight and ladye fair, sweeping in gorgeous array under the arcades of the overshadowing trees, silver spurs and jewelled trappings glittering in the sunlight, princely forms bending low over the saddles of the court beauties. Why, oh why, is it not possible to be picturesque and pious in the same epoch? Why may not chivalry and charity go hand in hand? It amuses me to imagine the amazement of the barons, bold and belted knights, could they be resuscitated for a sufficient length of time to gaze upon the hydropathic establishments which dot their ancient hunting-grounds. It would have been very difficult to interest the age of chivalry in hydropathy.

Such is the fascination of historic association that I am sure, if I could drag my beloved but conscientious Salemina from some foreign soup-kitchen which she is doubtless inspecting, I could make even her mourn the vanished past with me this morning, on the Beacon's towering head. For Salemina wearies of the age of charity sometimes, as every one does who is trying to make it a beautiful possibility.

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