"Dost thou like fair lands?"
"Why should I not like fair lands? How? Is not that the fairest part of God's creation ?"––King Alfred (from his translation of Boetius).
Where shall we go this year? Is––the question of the day. We want to make the most of that delightful holiday month when we need do nothing but "enjoy ourselves." But, alas,
"Pleasure is spread through the earth
In stray gifts, to be claimed by whoever shall find";
and we are not always lucky. Pleasure may be spread in stray gifts, but the gifts lie in likely places, and the quest must be undertaken with circumspection. We crave "fair lands"; town dwellers, especially, sicken for "the green"; the sea, perhaps; but, any way, grass and trees. We look out for pure air and pretty country, and having secured these, we settle down and say, Let us be therewith content. For the first few days, all is delightful; we explore, we botanise, we find many interests; then, boredom sets in; and we secretly tick off the days that separate us from the labours and pleasures of our everyday lives. Here is the whole secret of a successful holiday––the mind must be actively, unceasingly, and involuntarily engaged with fresh and ever-changing interests; and this is why, to take a holiday is by no means the easy thing it looks. The little child, indeed, is made happy day after day with spade and bucket, but that is because his unjaded imagination works without spur, and he is able to fill his sunny hours with glad interest, to make some ever new––
"Little plan or chart,
Some fragment of his dream of human life,
Shaped by himself with newly-learned art."
But the child who has outgrown spade and bucket, and who is a little fagged with school work, needs, like his elders, engrossing interests which shall compel him to think new thoughts. Fresh air for the lungs, fresh scenes for the eye, are fully healing and helpful only when the mind, too, is taken into account, and the jaded brain is spoon-fed, as it were, with new ideas. This is why foreign travel is delightful; a delight which is, alas, commonly out of the question for the parents of growing children, much more so for the children themselves; and the question is, can we stay at home, and, with the minimum of expense, and the maximum of convenience, get all the stimulus of foreign travel?
Indeed we can; disclaimers should come from those, only, who have tried the plan; I have tried it, and know it to be easy, economical, and infinitely pleasant. Treat an English county as you would a foreign country; not a district, observe, but a county: we seldom realise how individual each county is, in its landscape and history, its weather and ways;––who, for example would confound the blue skies of Sussex with the blue skies of Cambridgeshire? "There is a delicateness in the air" of each, but it is not the same delicateness. But, to be practical: we choose our county––almost any one will do, and the choice may well be influenced by the cost of taking a family far afield. We get up, roughly, in advance, its history, geology, scenery, flora; and pleasant family evenings are spent over Murray and a map: but once on our travels, nothing will satisfy us but the literature indigenous to the spot, the lives of the people who have made their dwelling-place illustrious, the books these may have written, the scenes of English history here played out. Having chosen our county, we fix upon some half-dozen centres, country towns, from which we can easily cover the interests of the whole county. Lodgings for a family can be obtained easily in towns where visitors are few and far between; we want but little luggage, for only the simplest dread-nought garments are suitable for the sort of life we have in view. It is easy to get from centre to centre; in an hour or two from leaving the last, the children are rejoicing in the investigation of new quarters. Each centre will probably afford a dozen walks and excursions of extreme interest, while the cost of the little transits is more than saved, because the rates of lodging and living in unfrequented country towns are far less than in the ordinary watering-places.
But readers are not convinced; they still think it better to settle down quietly "in a place you know," than to wander like tramps about the country, where, "What is there to see after all?" A single example is worth a peck of precepts, so let us glance at the possibilities of an English county, not a show county, either; but to know Hampshire is a liberal education in itself, and the recollection of its pleasant places and wonderfully interesting associations will stir
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,"
in many a dreary interval of life.
Are you an archaeologist? You may examine half-a-dozen churches with fragments of the original Norman structure in the course of one day's walk, and get quite new ideas of what the Norman conquerors did in scattering centres of light through the land. Are you an ornithologist? You may study the graceful ways of the swallows, and the habits of many of the "feathered nation," in Gilbert White's own "sweet Selborne." Are you a botanist? Here are rare treasures for your herbarium; in and about the Great Wood of Alton alone you may find seventeen of the thirty-eight British species of orchis. [1. Orchis inascula (early orchis); 2. Orchis latifolia (marsh orchis); 3. Orchis Piaculata (spotted Orchis); 4. Orchis motio (green-winged orchis); 5. Orchis tyratnidalis (pyramidal orchis); 6. Orchis conopsea (fragrant orchis) or Gymnadenia; 7. Habenaria bifelia (butterfly Habenaria or orchis); 8. Habenaria chkrantha (a variety or another species of No. 7); 9. Ophrys afiifera (bee ophrys or orchis); 10. Ophry muscifera (fly ophrys or orchis); 11. Epipactis latifolia (broad epipactis); 12. Cephalantheragratt imora (large cephalanthera); 13. Cephatantheea entifolia (narrow cephalanthera);14. Neottia Nidus-anis (bird's nest neottia); 15. Listera ovata (twayblade listera or twayblade); 16. Spiranthes autumnalis (lady's tresses).] Do you care for history, for good and great men, for Miss Austen, for the Christian Year––does geology interest you? Here is a field "all dedicate" to each. Do you wish your children to enter fully upon the inheritance of culture and virtue which is theirs in right of their English birth? Bring them here, or to some other lovely and pleasant county in the three kingdoms. A month spent thus in gathering the lore of a single county is more educative than five terms of vigorous school work.
A "county" is not to be commended for the babies who must not be taught, but children of six and upwards will take in without effort many nourishing ideas in the course of such a rambling holiday as I suggest.
One thing more: it is good, doubtless, to be cosmopolitan in our tastes, liberal and unprejudiced in our judgments; but he who would love all the world must begin with the brother whom he has seen, and enlightened sympathy with other nations can coexist only with profound and instructed patriotism. In the noble character, patriotism is the warp with which every fine and delicate attribute is interwoven. The child who is not trained in patriotic feeling will not, as a man, live at the highest level possible to him; and this noblest virtue is best instilled, not by vulgar vaunting of ourselves, but by the gradual introduction of the child to the lovely lives that have been lived, the great work that has been done, in quiet places in every county of Britain through the long period of our history.