24 SEPTEMBER 1921, Page 8


TO the householder of to-day the space of time between Lady Day and September 29th seems terribly short. Quarter days come round with ever-increasing celerity. Not long ago the present writer heard a small company of friends discussing which of their habitual expenses they grudged the most. Almost every one agreed that " the rent " was the drain upon income that they most resented. One or two dissentients declared that the dentist's bill, though so much smaller, was a cause of more exasperation. There is such a relentless regularity about the rent. Even education, appalling as is its cost, varies, can be made at any rate to vary a little. A few " extras " can be cut off, and the end is always in sight. But for most of us rent-paying will only end with our death, and nothing will avail to reduce its burden—except moving. Not that anyone under sixty minds moving nowadays. The proverb which says that three moves are worse than a fire " carries a date," as the dressmakers say. It is a long time since that was made ! General Post is the watchword of the age. The present writer is intimately acquainted with a couple who have moved nine times in twenty-two years. They are excellent and trustworthy people, constant in every relation of life. They do not appear to be a penny the worse for their moves in mind, body, or estate. They have " gathered moss " in every sense,_ adding yearly to the sum total of their income and their friends. This predilection for moving is perhaps their innocent and conscientious method of carrying on a rent strike. Every time that quarter day came round it was perhaps borne in upon them that they were paying too much for the advantages they were receiving, and every few quarters they determined to make a better bargain. The old notion that virtue attaches to long residence in one place has died very hard, but it seems to be dead now. All the same, we all like to speak of some particular corner of England as " our part of the country," or " our village," or " the place we all come from." If we mean that our ancestors were squires and in some sense ruled in that place, it is natural enough that we should wish to keep the fact in remembrance, but as a rule we mean nothing of the sort. Our " part of the world " is simply a back- ground against which our ancestors stand out in our imaginations. It was, if we think about it, rather silly and unenterprising of them to have stayed there so long ; but it is certain that the longer they did stay the more do we value them. The shadow of the old laws which caused the word " vagabond " to have a moral significance is still upon us ; the sentiment which made men love to live and die where their fathers had lived and died might come back, but at the moment, so far as ordinary folk not possessed of large ancestral estates is concerned, it is gone. In the Home Counties, and we should say for something like thirty miles round all the great centres, the country- side is in a perpetual state of flux. To have lived fifteen years in a place is to be an old inhabitant ; villages have less and less tradition. If you ask a question concerning half a century ago, you are told, " I know very little about it ; it was before I came here." All but the very big houses change hands constantly, and they too are changing now or being shut up. We do not believe that this General Post is to be accounted for by love of town or ease of transit. The train which is so cheap and convenient for taking men away would take them back. Even in Shakespeare's day youth was not " homekeeping," but men came back. Nowadays even those who talk most sentimentally of " our old home " do not return to it. Among people of moderate means there was never such a passion for the country as there is now. Every man who can afford it takes some little house in the country, and his success is very much gauged by how good a one he can take. Very often, if he is at all successful, his real home is a long way off his work, some- where " really in the country " and with no suburban taint. But how seldom do the graves of his forbears exercise any influence in his choice of neighbourhood, and how seldom does he live more than a few years in the place that he does choose ! The odd thing is that in some ways people trouble themselves more about their neigh- bours than they ever did. Those who come as strangers to a country parish with no intention of remaining there for more than a very few years often throw themselves most eagerly into the public life of the place. They give their time to village institutes and choirs, to all the little public works " going on around them. They struggle to ht all sorts of wrongs and to set in motion all sorts of " good movements," and then they leave without a sigh, often without having made a friendship, and with every intention of making themselves useful in some other utterly strange place in which they have found a house or a garden or an atmosphere or a sport rather more to their liking. It used to be said, when the habit of working in London and spending one's leisure in the country first began, that London would suffer terribly by the new way of life. Men of substance whose work made them live in the smoke five days a week would cease to have any patriotic feeling for their city, it was thought. The man who lived over his office, whose roof in London covered his home, made the interests of the city his own, it was argued ; while the man whose heart was in the country where his wife and children spent half their time would regard it as merely the unpleasant scene of his labours. This theory has not proved true. It is easier to get busy men to give their time to working for the good of London than it used to be when they lived in it year in, year out. It is very difficult to draw any moral whatever from the present change of taste. The only thing to be said from the moral point of view about the curious nomadic wave which has come over the world is that it is coincident with a loss of content. If ever we become contented again it is probable that we shall once more " settle down," or at any rate the emotion which kept our forefathers stationary will once more have as much force as modern circumstances permit. People who are sufficiently prosperous to have any choice will once more want to " belong " somewhere, and their children will not " cut the painter " as soon as an inde- pendent income allows them to do so. At present, while we like to " belong " to some definite place in recollection, we have a notion that the result of taking any sort of root in any given district is rather bad for the mind. " People get so petty," we constantly hear, if they live always in one place—unless they arc really rich people who bring their own society to them from everywhere. Each generation has, of course, its own idea of what con- stitutes " pettiness." The restlessness of to-day may seem " petty " to-morrow. We have still not got away from one bit of late Victorian affectation. There is no good in pretending that what is called gossip is beneath our notice, or that we arc better than other people because we cannot take an interest in the love-affairs and hate- affairs, lucks and ill-lucks of those who live round us. We can take interest in matters far less typically human when they are retailed for us in the Press. The gossip of a village, if it has its roots in the past in the friendly relations of generations of neighbours, has a close connexion with the great affairs of life. Perhaps we may live to see the week- end cottage go from father to son, and the " little place in the country " become once more an ancestral home, if only a home for the holidays. It would mean a very real " change of heart " for the better or the worse according as one looks at it. Those who love to live in " the traffic " would be sorry to see it ; those to whom a certain silence and sameness in the highways are necessary to the charm of life will be very glad. The effects of the change will probably show itself first in the fashionable fiction—and we shall look for a new Miss Austen and a new Trollope.