THE ART OF LIVING IN THE COUNTRY.
IF " life requires an art," it requires it much more in the country than in towns. We do not mean the art, which may certainly be acquired by any one, of understanding the ways of birds and beasts and flowers, but the art, infinitely more difficult, of getting on with one's fellow-men. We are thinking in particular of the relations of well-to-do new- comers in a district with the established population of poorer people. The newcomers have arrived, as it were, by right of conquest—the conquest of a longer purse—but they have to placate the affections of the people over whom they hope in a sense to rule, every bit as much as he who conquers a country by force of arms has to win the consent of its inhabitants to his administration. The villagers, even though several of them may have been settled there but a short time, have an employment which explains and justifies their presence, and actually associates them with all the past history—in a word, with the genius—of the place. They are there for an obvious reason, and consequently enjoy a rational membership in the community. But the newcomers who have taken the " Hall," the " Manor," or the " Lodge" have no clear justification for being there except their own act of volition, which may or may not be rightly open to suspicion. At all events, it is necessary that they should prove that their motives in connecting themselves with the district are good and sound. If they follow their business (hunting or shooting being, of course, indulgently recognised as a serious enough business for the ordinary purposes of life) in a proper manner, going their own way and letting other people go theirs, then they will be accepted in the district eventually as worthy inhabitants, who at least mean no harm ; but if not, they will be scarcely tolerated. It should be understood that the newcomers are on probation,—a probation imposed from below by persons who seldom undergo it themselves. It is a wholesome and stimulating condition this, that esteem, or even tolerance, is not a purchasable commodity. The property may be bought at Tokenhouse Yard, but the " goodwill " of the people does not go with it, and must be created afresh by each proprietor. The new proprietor may suppose that the respect of the people should be his at once, and that if it be withheld it is only a proof of boorishness ; but his assumption —nay, presumption—is in vain. He may buy everything else, but he must earn that.
For the poor people of the country are undoubtedly suspicious. Before one begins to understand them one must recognise that this suspicion is not a want of manners so much as a natural protection. It is the open signal, for one thing, that the intimacy which is not easily bestowed is worth
having. In theory a Fellow of a College is not verus socius till his year of probation is over, though readers of Sir Frederick Pollock's verses may remember that the new Fellow was held to have satisfied the necessary tests because the College cat displayed very friendly feelings towards him. He had found a short cut and became "a verus seeius, known to all," because "accepted by the cat." Country people in requiring a like probation before a newcomer can be regarded as verus socius no doubt have at the back of their minds a sense that they belong to a close cor- poration of a similar kind. We have heard of a lady who came to live in the " great house " in a certain district, and was shocked at the manners of the people. The women did not curtsey—which was perhaps explicable, for the fashion dies out even where squires are thickest—but the men did not even touch their hats. She called their unreadi- ness to pay their respects sullenness and wilful rudeness. Never had she seen such manners ! Her strictures, freely expressed, were passed from mouth to month, and it became impossible for her to create a " goodwill " in that district. A more sagacious invader would have understood that the process must be gradual. It is almost like the disagreeable process of entering a full railway carriage ; you are looked upon with positive hostility till you have insisted on forcing your way into a Seat, when after a few moments you under- stand that, by some tacit agreement, you have become part of the garrison which you are loyally and acceptably helping to keep out further intruders. Bacon has said that " suspicions are defects not in the heart but in the brain." H this truth were grasped, there would be less resentment against the backwardness of poor people to meet generous advances. " There is nothing makes a man suspect much, more than to know little." Villagers are suspicious in more complicated as well as crasser ways than townspeople are; in towns the more romantic forms of suspicion, as they might be called, are dulled by experience ; they are worn away by attrition,— in the process of rubbing shoulders with the multitude. There is more mystery in the thin populations of the country, perhaps, because there is more time for contemplation, for following clues to their conclusions without being disturbed. The lowing of a cow or the crowing of a cock is less distracting to an inefficient intellectual apparatus than the flashing sights of the streets or the roar of the motor-'buses. The whole point, then, is that the newcomers must be known and under- stood before suspicion can be lulled. They may be bountiful and friendly from the beginning, but unless they are plainly understood they will be treated as the five little children and the " Quangle-wangle" who went round the world were treated by their relations when they returned,—with "affection mingled with contempt."
A counterpart of suspicion is secretiveness. If the villager or cottager had the easy habit of selling you all about himself, he would have already handed you the keys of his citadel. He knows better. He makes a mystery of which way he will vote at the election, not because he is more scrupulous than yourself in observing the theory of the ballot, but because to appear to keep his judgment in suspense is to acquire a sense of power. It is his secret, not yours, and it is a secret of some moment. Similarly, his wife opens a mere crack of the door when some one knocks, and holds the door so till she has examined the person, not because she is constitutionally in- hospitable, but because the penetralia of her home are not for all eyes. The interior is her secret. Again, secretiveness prevents the countryman from revealing the exact degree of his pleasure or gratitude. If you offer him a job which it has long been his ambition to have, he says : " I don't mind obliging " ; or if you invite him to eat or drink, he says : "I don't mind if I do." No doubt all this merges in the just habit of remaining independent. Cobbett said that to be poor and independent is very nearly impossible. We think he was wrong. Anger, as some one has said, makes a man poor, yet it is obvious that anger is frequently indulged in on that condition. A labourer " throws up his job "—only too often—because he is offended or cannot refrain from the satisfaction of " having a go " at his employer. Another proof of independence among poor countrymen is that they are so far from expecting bounty from the rich that they are not easily persuaded that it is given free of all stipulations or motives. They suspect some kind of deal. "Narthen for narthen," as they say in Essex, is a regular, almost a proverbial, principle of their life. -Yet the poor may completely and unexpectedly surrender their hearts to the author of an act which is agreeable to some complicated and delicate section of their etbice. Mr. Kipling has perceived this, and makes use of the discovery in his new book in the deeply moving episode of the American lady who wins the admiration of the village by her vigil by the dead body of the old caretaker.
Just as Mr. Kipling fancies there is a law of the jungle, so there is a "law of the land,"—the "land," we mean, in the special sense of landed property. It is only natural that those who have long lived on the land, whether as employers or labourers, should understand that law, while the new- comers, who have not inherited the same experience, are completely baffled by it. It is an unexpressed, implicit law, and if you asked those who abide under it what it is, they would probably be unable to say ; but its existence is proved because any of them would know by instinct when it had been transgressed. Townspeople who are never on the land, except to visit a hired " shoot," or to spend Saturday to Monday in the houses of others, can hardly hope to get to the bottom of it. The phrase the country gentleman uses about " our people " may have a sound of undue proprietorship, but more often than not it embodies a triumphant fact,—the existence of a complete polity in which there is mutual understanding and respect. After all, do not the country people say " our squire," " our parson," or even, maybe, " our Duke " ? The intimacy and confidence, the absence of all suspicion and suspicious restraint, between the villagers and their employer's in such a polity is one of the most valuable of the mutual social influences in English life. What a. strange reflection that in these progressively democratic days so many of the rich new- comers to the land should be less democratic than the older owners ! We have heard lately of the resentment of an old fell- side farmer in Cumberland at his treatment by some of the rich invaders, who were evidently very far from creating the " goodwill " which no doubt they desired. There was not a, house in the old days where he was not welcome to enjoy the universal license of a hunting morning, and have his breakfast by the side of the best in the county. To-day he has to wait till the more important friends of his nouveaux riches hosts have been regaled in the sanctity of their own society. In the same way, the old-fashioned landowner probably dislikes poaching every bit as much as the rich man who has bought the big place next door, but his conception of it is tempered by his knowledge of the "law of the land." To him it is, at all events, a very intelligible crime. On the whole, we fancy that the poor people of the country have more art in their life than their brothers in the towns. To feel what that art is, rather than to have its rules by rote, is the task before the rich invader. If he fails in the long run, he has himself missed the art of living in the country. He may play at the country life, like Marie Antoinette and her friends in their spick-and-span hamlet in the garden of the Petit Trianon, but his performance will be the shadow and not the substance.