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Here, There and Everywhere By Lord Frederic Hamilton Characters: 23293

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Dislike of the elderly to change-Some legitimate grounds of complaint-Modern pronunciation of Latin-How a European crisis was averted by the old-fashioned method-Lord Dufferin's Latin speech-Schoolboy costume of a hundred years ago-Discomforts of travel in my youth-A crack liner of the "eighties"-Old travelling carriages-An election incident-Headlong rush of extraordinary turnout-The politically minded signalman and the doubtful voter-"Decent bodies"-Confidence in the future-Conclusion.

To point out that elderly people dislike change is to assert the most obvious of truisms. Their three-score years of experience have taught them that all changes are not necessarily changes for the better, as youth fondly imagines; and that experiments are not invariably successful. They have also learnt that no amount of talk will alter hard facts, and that the law that effect will follow cause is an inflexible one which torrents of fluent platitudes will neither affect nor modify. Even should this entail their being labelled with the silly and meaningless term of "reactionary," I do not imagine that their equanimity is much upset by it. It is, perhaps, natural for the elderly to make disparaging comparisons between the golden past and the neutral-tinted present; so that one shudders at reflecting what a terrific nuisance Methuselah must have become in his old age. One can almost hear the youth of his day whispering friendly warnings to each other: "Avoid that old fellow like poison, for you will find him the most desperate bore. He is for ever grousing about the rottenness of everything nowadays compared to what it was when he was a boy nine hundred years ago."

What applies to Methuselah may apply, in a lesser degree, to all of us elderly people, though I think that we are justified when we lament a noticeable decline in certain definite standards of honour which in our day were almost universally accepted both in private and in public life. Even then some few may have bowed the knee at the shrine of "Monseigneur l'Argent"; but it was done almost furtively, for "people on the make," or unblushingly "out for themselves," were less to the fore then than now, and were most certainly less conspicuous in public life.

We can also be forgiven for regretting a marked decline in manners. Possibly in hurried days when every one seems to crave for excitement, there is but little time left for those courtesies customary amongst an older generation.

There is no need to enlarge on the immense changes the years have brought about during my lifetime. Amongst the very minor changes, I notice that when my great-nephews quote any Latin to me, I am unable to understand one single syllable of it, and between ourselves I fancy that this modern pronunciation of Latin would be equally unintelligible to an ancient Roman.

Our old-fashioned English pronunciation of Latin may have been illogical, but on one occasion it helped to avert a European war. The late Count Benckendorff, the last Russian Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, a singularly fascinating man, was protocolist to the Congress of Berlin in 1878, and as such was present at every sitting of the Congress. He told me that at one meeting of the Plenipotentiaries, Prince Gortschakoff announced that Russia, in direct contravention of Article XIII of the Treaty of Paris of 1856, intended to fortify the port of Batoum. This was expressly forbidden by the Treaty of Paris, so Lord Beaconsfield rose from his chair and said quietly, "Casus belli," only he pronounced the Latin words in the English fashion, and Count Benckendorff assured me that no one present, with the exception of the British delegates, had the glimmer of an idea of what he was talking about. They imagined that he was making some remark in English to Lord Salisbury, and took no notice of it whatever. Lord Salisbury whispered to his colleague, and ultimately Prince Gortschakoff withdrew the claim to fortify Batoum. "But," added Count Benckendorff, "just imagine the consternation of the Congress had Lord Beaconsfield hurled his ultimatum to Russia with the continental pronunciation 'cahsous bellee!'" Just picture the breaking up of the Congress, the frantic telegrams, the shrieking headlines, the general consternation, and the terrific results that might have followed! And all these tremendous possibilities were averted by our old-fashioned English pronunciation of Latin!

My old Chief and godfather, the late Lord Dufferin, in his most amusing Letters From High Latitudes, recounts how he was entertained at a public dinner at Rejkjavik in Iceland by the Danish Governor. To his horror Lord Dufferin found that he was expected to make a speech, and his hosts asked him to speak either in Danish or in Latin. Lord Dufferin, not knowing one word of Danish, hastily reassembled his rusty remnants of Latin, and began, "Insolitus ut sum ad publicum loquendum," and in proposing the Governor's health, begged his audience, amidst enthusiastic cheers, to drink it with a "haustu longo, haustu forti, simul atque haustu."

Such are the advantages of a classical education!

My younger relatives, who naturally look upon me as being of almost antediluvian age, sometimes ask me to describe the discomforts of an all-night coach journey in my youth, or inquire how many days we occupied in travelling from, say, London to Edinburgh. They are obviously sceptical when I assure them that my memory does not extend to pre-railway days. I am surprised that they do not ask me for a few interesting details of occasions when we were stopped by masked highwaymen on Hounslow Heath in the course of our journeys.

My father told me that when he first went to Harrow in September, 1823, at the age of twelve, he rode all the way from London, followed by a servant carrying his portmanteau on a second horse. My father's dress sounds curious to modern ears. Below a jacket and one of the big flapping collars of the period, he wore a waistcoat of crimson cut-velvet with gold buttons, a pair of skin-tight pantaloons of green tartan with Hessian boots to the knee, further adorned with large brass spurs with brass chains. A schoolboy of twelve would excite some comment were he to appear dressed like that to-day, though my father assured me that he could run in his Hessian boots and spurs as fast as any of his school-fellows.

Though my recollections may not go back to pre-railway days, the conditions under which we travelled in my youth would be thought intolerable now. No sleeping- or dining-cars, long night-journeys in unheated, dimly lit carriages devoid of any kind of convenience, and sea-passages in small, ill-equipped steamers. All these were accepted as a matter of course, and as inevitable incidents of travel.

The first long-distance voyage I ever made was just forty years ago, and I should like people who grumble at the accommodation provided in one of the huge modern liners to see the arrangements thought good enough for passengers in 1882. Our ship, the Britannia of the Pacific Steam Navigation Co., was just over 4,000 tons, and we passengers congratulated each other loudly on our good fortune in travelling in so fast and splendid a vessel. The Britannia had no deck-houses, the uncarpeted, undecorated saloon was the only place in which to sit, and its furniture consisted of long tables with swinging racks over them, flanked by benches. This sumptuous apartment was illuminated at night by no less than forty candles, a source of immense pride of the chief steward. The sleeping-cabins for a six weeks' voyage were smaller and less comfortably fitted than those at present provided for the three hours' trip between Holyhead and Kingstown; at night one dim oil-lamp glimmered in a ground-glass case fixed between two cabins, but only up to 10.30 p.m., after which the ship was plunged into total darkness. As it was before the days of refrigerators, the fore part of the deck was devoted to live stock. Pigs grunted in one pen, sheep bleated in another, whilst ducks quacked and turkeys gobbled in coops on either side of them. No one ever thought of grumbling; on the contrary, we all experienced that stupid sense of reflected pride which passengers in a crack liner feel, for the Britannia then enjoyed a tremendous reputation in the Pacific. Certainly, seen from the shore, the old Britannia was a singularly pleasing object to the eye, with her clipper bows, the graceful curve of her sheer, and the beautiful lines of her low hull unbroken by any deck-houses or top-hamper.

The traveller of to-day is more fortunate; he expects and finds in a modern liner all the comforts he would enjoy in a first-class hotel ashore; and finds them too in a lesser degree on railway journeys.

The long continental tours of my father and mother in the early days of their married life, were all made by road in their own carriages, and as their family increased they took their elder children with them in their wanderings, so what with children, nurses and servants, they travelled with quite a retinue.

I think that my father must have had a sentimental attachment for the old travelling carriages which had taken him and his family in safety over one-half of Europe, for he never parted with them, and various ancient vehicles reposed in our coach-houses, both in England and Ireland. The workmanship of these old carriages was so excellent that some of them, repainted and re-varnished, were still used for station-work in the country. There was in particular one venerable vehicle known as the "Travelling Clarence," which remained in constant use for more than sixty years after its birth. This carriage must have had painful associations for my elder brothers and sisters, for they travelled in it on my parents' continental tours. My mother always complimented their nurse on the extraordinarily tidy appearance the children presented after they had been twelve hours or more on the road; she little knew that the nurse carried a cane, and that any child who fidgeted ever so slightly at once received two smart cuts on the hand from this cane, so that their ultra-neat appearance on arriving at their destination was achieved rather painfully. This Clarence was an unusually comfortable and easy-rolling carriage; it hung on Cee springs, and was far more heavily padded than a modern vehicle; it had vast pockets arranged round its capacious grey interior, and curious little circular pillows for the head were suspended by cords from its roof. On account of its comfort it was much used in its old age for station-work in Ireland. Should that old carriage have had any feelings, I can thoroughly sympathise with them. Dreaming away in its coach-house over its varied past, it must have remembered the vine-clad hills through which it had once rolled on the banks of the swift-flowing, green Rhone. It cannot have forgotten the orange groves and olives of sunny Provence overhanging the deep-blue Mediterranean, the plains of Northern Italy where the vines were festooned from tree to tree, the mountains and clear streams of the Tyrol, or the sleepy old Belgian cities melodious with the clash of many bells. Each time that it was rolled out of its coach-house I imagine that every fibre in its antique frame must have vibrated at the thought that now it was to re-commence its wanderings. Conscious though the old carriage doubtless was that its springs were less lissom than they used to be, and that the axles which formerly ran so smoothly now creaked alarmingly, and sent sharp twinges quivering through its body, it must have

felt confident that it could still accomplish what it had done fifty years earlier. I feel certain that it started full of expectations, as it felt itself guided along the familiar road which followed the windings of the lake, with the high wooded banks towering over it, and then along a mile of highroad between dense plantations of spruce and Scotch fir, until the treeless, stonewalled open country of Northern Ireland was reached. The hopes of the old carriage must have risen high as the houses of the little town came into view; first one-storied, white-washed and thatched; then two-storied, white-washed and slated, all alike lying under a blue canopy of fragrant peat smoke. The turn to the right was the Dublin road, the road which ultimately led to the sea, and to a curious heaving contrivance which somehow led over angry waters to new and sunnier lands. No; the guiding hands directed its course to the left, down the brae, and along the over-familiar road to the station. The old Clarence must have recognised with a sigh that its roaming days were definitely over, and that henceforth, as long as its creaking axles and stiffening springs held together, it could only look forward to an uneventful life of monotonous routine in a cold, grey Northern land; and, between ourselves, these feelings are not confined to superannuated carriages.

The old Clarence had one splendid final adventure before it fell to pieces from old age. At the 1892 Election I was the Unionist candidate for North Tyrone. In the North of Ireland political lines of demarcation are drawn sharply and definitely. People are either on one side or the other. I was quite aware that to win the seat I should have to poll every available vote. On the polling day I spent the whole day in going round the constituency and was consequently away from home. Late in the afternoon a messenger arrived at Baron's Court announcing that an elderly farmer, who lived six miles off and had lost the use of his legs, had been forgotten. As, owing to his infirmity, he was unable to sit on a jaunting-car, it had been arranged that a carriage should be sent for him, but this had not been done. The old man was most anxious to vote, but could only do so were a carriage sent for him, and in less than two hours the poll would close. My brother Ernest, and my sister-in-law, the present Dowager Duchess of Abercorn, were at home, and realising the vital importance of every vote, they went at once up to the stables, only to find that every available man, horse, or vehicle was already out, conveying voters to the poll. The stables were deserted. The Duchess recollected the comfortable old Clarence, and she and my brother together rolled it out into the yard, but a carriage without horses is rather useless, and there was not one single horse left in the stalls. My brother rushed off to see if he could find anything with four legs capable of dragging a carriage. He was fortunate enough to discover an ancient Clydesdale cart-mare in some adjacent farm buildings, but she was the solitary tenant of the stalls. He noticed, however, a three-year-old filly grazing in the park, and, with the aid of a sieve of oats and a halter, he at length succeeded in catching her, leading his two captives triumphantly back to the stable-yard. Now came a fresh difficulty. Every single set of harness was in use, and the harness-room was bare. The Duchess had a sudden inspiration. Over the fireplace in the harness-room, displayed in a glass show-case, was a set of State harness which my father had had specially made for great occasions in Dublin: gorgeous trappings of crimson and silver, heavy with bullion. The Duchess hurried off for the key, and with my brother's help harnessed the astounded mare and the filly, and then put them to. The filly, unlike the majority of the young of her sex, had apparently no love for the pomps and vanities of the world, and manifested her dislike of the splendours with which she was tricked-out by kicking furiously. The unclipped, ungroomed farm-horses, bedizened with crimson and silver, must have felt rather like a navvy in his working clothes who should suddenly find himself decked-out with the blue velvet mantle of a Knight of the Garter over his corduroys. The Duchess proposed fetching the old farmer herself, so she climbed to the box-seat and gathered the reins into her hands, but on being reminded by my brother that time was running short, and that the cart-horses would require a good deal of persuasion before they could be induced to accelerate their customary sober walk, she relinquished her place to him. Off they went, the filly still kicking frantically, the old Clydesdale mare, glittering with crimson and silver, uncertain as to whether she was dragging a plough or hauling the King in his State coach to the Opening of Parliament at Westminster. Once on the level the indignant animals felt themselves lashed into an unaccustomed gallop; they lumbered along at a clumsy canter, shaking the solid ground as they pounded it with their heavy feet, the ancient Clarence, enchanted at this last rollicking adventure, swaying and rolling behind them like a boat in a heavy sea. This extraordinary-looking turn-out continued its headlong course over bog-roads and through rough country lanes, to the astonishment of the inhabitants, till the lame farmer's house was reached. He was carefully lifted into the carriage, conveyed to the polling-place, and recorded his vote at 7.54 p.m., with just six minutes to spare before the poll closed. As it turned out I won the seat by fifty-six votes, so this rapid journey was really superfluous, but we all thought that it would be a much closer thing.

In the North of Ireland where majorities, one way or the other, are often very narrow, electioneering has been raised almost to a fine art. A nephew of mine was the Unionist candidate for a certain city in the North of Ireland during the 1911 election. Here again it was certain that his majority could only be a very small one, and as is the custom in Ulster every individual vote was carefully attended to. One man, though a nominal supporter, was notoriously very shaky in his allegiance. He was a railway guard and left the city daily on the 7.30 a.m. train, before the poll would open, returning by the fast train from Dublin due at 7.40 p.m. He would thus on the polling day have had ample time in which to record his vote. The change in his political views was so well known that my nephew's Election Committee had written off his vote as a hostile one, but they had reckoned without the railway signalman. This signalman was a most ardent political partisan and a strong adherent of my nephew's, and he was determined to leave nothing to chance. Knowing perfectly how the land lay, he was resolved to give the dubious guard no opportunity of recording a possibly hostile vote, so, on his own initiative, he put his signals against the Dublin train and kept her waiting for twenty-two minutes, to the bewilderment of the passengers, until the striking of the clocks announced the closing of the poll. Then he released her, and the train rolled into the terminus at 8.5 p.m., so I fear that the guard was unable to record his vote, hostile or otherwise. I think that this is an example of finesse in electioneering which would never have occurred to an Englishman. My nephew won the seat by over fifty votes.

I have again exceeded the space allotted to me, and am reminded by a ruthless publisher of the present high cost of production.

We have strayed together through many lands, and should the pictures of these be dull or incomplete, I can but tender my apologies. I am quite conscious, too, that I have taken full advantage of the privilege which I claimed in the first chapter, and that I have at times wandered wide from the track which I was following. I must plead in extenuation that the interminable straight roads of France seem to me less interesting than the winding country lanes of England. Indeed, I am unable to conceive of any one walking for pleasure along the endless vistas of the French poplar-bordered highways, where every objective is clearly visible for miles ahead; it is the English meandering by-roads, with their twists and turns, their unexpected and intimate glimpses into rural life, their variety and surprises, which tempt the pedestrian on and on. We may accept Euclid's dictum that a straight line is the shortest road between two points; a wandering line, if longer, is surely as a rule the more interesting.

A Scottish clerical friend of mine, the minister of a large parish in the South of Scotland, told me that there were just two categories of people in the world, "decent bodies" and the reverse, and that the result of his seventy years' experience of this world was that the "decent bodies" largely predominated.

Although I am unable to claim quite as many years as my friend the old minister, my experience coincides with his, the "decent bodies" are in a great majority, I have met them everywhere amongst all classes, and in every part of the world, and their skins are not always white.

They may not be conspicuously to the fore, for the "decent bodies" are not given to self-advertisement. They have no love for the limelight, and would be distinctly annoyed should their advent be heralded with a flourish of trumpets. In the garden-borders the mignonette is a very inconspicuous little plant, and passes almost unnoticed beside the flaunting gaudiness of the dahlia or the showy spikes of the hollyhock, yet it is from that modest, low-growing, grey-green flower that comes the sweetness that perfumes the whole air, for the most optimistic person would hardly expect fragrance from dahlias or hollyhocks. They have their uses; they are showy, decorative and aspiring, but they do not scent the garden.

Between 1914 and 1918 I, in common with most people, came across countless hundreds of "decent bodies," many of them wearing V.A.D. nurse's uniforms. These little women did not put on their nurse's uniform merely to pose before a camera with elaborately made-up eyes and a carefully studied sympathetic expression, to return to ordinary fashionable attire at once afterwards. They scrubbed floors, and carried heavy weights, and worked till they nearly dropped, week after week, month after month, and year after year, but they were never too tired to whisper an encouraging word, or render some small service to a suffering lad. I wonder how many thousands of these lads owe their lives to those quiet, unassuming, patient little "decent bodies" in blue linen, and to the element of human sympathy which they supplied. And what of the occupants of the hospital beds themselves? We all know the splendid record of sufferings patiently borne, of indomitable courage and cheerfulness, and of countless little acts of thoughtfulness and consideration for others in a worse plight even than themselves. Who, after having had that experience, can falter in their belief that the "decent bodies" are in a majority?

I know many people looking forward to the future with gloom and apprehension. I do not share their views. For the moment the more blatant elements in the community are unquestionably monopolising the stage and focussing attention on themselves, but I know that behind them are the vast unseen armies of the "decent bodies," who will assert themselves when the time comes.

These "decent bodies" are not the exclusive product of one country, of one class, or of one sex. They are to be found "Here, There, and Everywhere."

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