12 AUGUST 1905, Page 12


IT was raining when we came to Plymouth,—a thin, cold,

• comfortless rain, which enveloped land and sea in a wet mist. Sometimes the chill breezes lifted the curtain hanging over the shore, so that we had fleeting glimpses of England, and eagerly strained our eyes to see what manner of country it might be,—for to one of us at least it was a newly discovered land. The first impression was of its greenness, the second of its dense population, the third that it had all been recently "ring-barked." When an Australian sees new country, his first inward query is, "Will it run sheep ? " and the next, "How many sheep to the acre ? " This is an ingrained mental habit with all who have bad to do with the Bush,—a habit so peculiarly strong that it is sometimes a little difficult to restrain its interference with the. appreciation of beautiful scenery for its own sake. Your most typical Australian Would ask himself the question of Hyde Park during his first walk through it. It was clear that Devonshire would carry plenty of stock, but why had it been so indiscriminately • NOT1L—The author of these papers claims hardly anything for them other than that they are personal impressions: They are merely intended to present a few phases of England and the English as photographed through Australian lenses. Often, no doubt, they are impressions which have not been well fdcussed. and perhaps have blurred a little in the developing process. One claim, however, he does make,—that he has tried to be fair. When he has not succeeded in being so he would be glad to feel that the reader would credit him with ignorance rather than design. "rung" ? There were a few clumps of dark pine • and firs here and there along the ridges, but for the rest the " ring- barker's " axe had been busy cutting the circular girdle intim bark which starves trees to death, and which is everywhere cut on "improved" lands to-day in Australia. It was only after a minute or two of curious gazing that it was remem- bered that here we were in a land where all the timber is not evergreen. One mentions this rather as an explanation of some subsequent points of view which these papers will contain. So many conditions—social, political, religious,-and educational—in an old land are inexplicable and mysterious to a visitor from a new one, that the writer often reflects while commenting on some strangely unfamiliar aspect of England and English life : "Well, after all, you thought the trees at Plymouth had been ring-barked !" The incident may explain a little of the mystification which many things familiar and common enough to an Englishman carry with them to a newly landed Australian.

But on that cold March morning, viewed from the wet decks of a great steamer, England seemed a dull, grey, cheerless, bleak country enough. Up the Channel deep fogs beset us from the Isle of Wight to Gravesend, and always tramp steamers, ships, and fishing smacks strove to run into us. So that we came to Tilbury perhaps a little unconsciously prejudiced against the Old Land. Had the sun shone brightly —as we found about a month later that it was possible for it to do—and the wealth of the Lower Thames been revealed to us, we might have held the situation less cheerless. If you come from a country where, in many years, the sun is visible for three hundred out of the three hundred and sixty-five days, and have voyaged for weeks through brilliantly illuminated tropical seas and the Mediterranean at its best, Tilbury on a wet day is not the most prepossessing gateway by which to enter England. Nor does the run by rail from Tilbury to Liverpool Street give overmuch promise. It is only when, at dusk, you step out into the wonderful fairyland of London's lights reflecting countless beauties from the wet pavements that you first begin to feel that after all it may not be so bad. And then, as you drive for miles through the streets of the chaotic, roaring great city to your hotel, you are taken in the first grip of an amazement which never afterwards quite leaves you while you know London.

But it is not so lonely to camp in the middle of a great plain by yourself on a moonlight night as it is for the first few days after your arrival in London, before you have pre- sented any of your letters of introduction. It is not so lonely to be lying in a firing-line for the first time, with your right and left hand neighbour ten yards away from you, as it is to walk down Oxford Street thinking : "Amongst all these hurrying millions there isn't one human soul who cares about me, or for whom, as a matter of fact, I care two straws." And these—the great plain and the first firing-line--are the two loneliest situations of which the writer has any personal knowledge. There is no loneliness like the loneliness of a great city, and no great city wherein one may realise the depths of solitude as in London. Is it so in all England? you wonder. Does every Englishman hate and distrust a stranger ? Are the only people with whom the Outlander may engage in conversation German waiters seeking two- pence, or hall-porters similarly anxious for emolument?

There were some letters in a box which had not yet come up from the docks, and did not come for three .days, and those three days were the most solitary of one's life eiIe every different in the Bush, where every whistling ht_ chirruping cricket in the creek, every scratching 'possum in a gum-tree, was an old friend, whose language and sympathy were almost to be understood. It was different in the firing- line,—for there spoke many wonderful Voices of Life and of Death. But there was no man, or beast, or bird in this huge wilderness caring or cared for. There could never again be any such hateful solitude.

• At a little table in • the hotel dining-room I sat opposite a well-groomed gentleman of middle age for several Meals during those three sad days. "A wet day ! " I ventured

on the first occasion. "Yes," admitted my via-a-tris, and the conversation languished. From the tone of the "Yes," it was

obvious that it must needs languish. A genial policeman in Trafalgar Square of whom I asked the way late one night, and who made friendly observations as to .the difficulties of London's geography to strangers, was the first human being in London with whom I spoke at any length. I almost felt inclined to ask him to run me in, he was so good a soul. Thereafter was a 'bus-driver,—and always since one has respected 'bus-drivers.

How one hated England and the English in those days ! It rained ; there was never any sunlight. Everywhere were the hurrying people with the sad faces ; always the roar of the immense traffic. In the parks the trees were dead, or seemed so. When one lay down to sleep at night always came the curious reflection—a strangely discomforting one— "All about me, in this one city, are as many people, packed together on a piece of land about the size of a fairly large sheep-station, as we have in the whole of Australia, and I don't know one of them ; and the • only people who are interested at all in my existence are the hotel-people, because they don't quite know yet whether I can pay my bill !" Truly, it was a sad little period, exceedingly tinctured with nostalgia, and it took weeks and months to remove the impres- sion of England which, no doubt through one's own foolish- ness, it planted in one's mind. I write of it merely to show how the average stranger must often, in the first days of his sojourn in England, be unconsciously set against the country and its people. Not many of us really care to admit the sources of our likes and dislikes, but I am more than sure that not a few of my fellow- countrymen, with whom I have talked here about England, have acquired anti-English views from some experience similar to that outlined above. The country is strange, the people are strange, the ways of life are inexplicable and mysterious. We cannot think in the same way as the English, nor can they understand our mental processes. And so, very often, incalculable harm is done to those Imperial relations which most Englishmen, and most Australians, desire to see strengthened and cultivated. Many of our people do not stay long enough in England to learn to love the country, as they inevitably must sooner or later, nor are they themselves seen in their best light by the English with whom they come in contact. The writer knows personally at least two Australian public men whose opinion carries weight in Australia, who, ardent Imperialists before coming to England, have returned not a little inclined towards the unsatisfactory " We'd-separate-if-it-were-safe" political frame of mind. And so, with all apologies for insisting upon a distinction between the terms " English " and "Australian," one endeavours to account a little for the fact, which is obvious to any one who goes into the question seriously, that the distinction does not grow less.

When, as months go on, and one has seen the sun again, seen the brilliant awakening of spring in England—nowhere can there be anything more peacefully beautiful—learned a little to know its people and understand their ways, and grasped something of the significance of custom and tradition, one cannot but honestly confess to a certain "falling in love" with the country. England grows upon you. The trim little fields and the hedge-girt roads and lanes, which at first were so small and so cramping, have a fascination of their own. The slow, appointed orderliness which seems to rule the whole of life makes itself clear as a part of the reason for England's greatness. That very greatness, you realise, does truly exist. You begin to understand why, in spite of much that is wrong, and many evils that would destroy a weaker people, the people of England, still dwelling in their little islands, rank among the greatest people of the world. Of course, if you are a decent Australian, you will never for a moment admit that England is as good a country as Australia, or that an Englishman is as good a man as an Australian—any more than a loyal Englishman would allow the truth of the converse —but you will conceive a great and abiding respect for the Old Land and the Old People. You will have got to know both better than in the first three days, when you took Waterloo Bridge for London Bridge, and experienced for yourself the abomination of desolation—being alone in London—and will have acquired an affection for the beautiful country, and the solid worth of the race, which you will never lose while you live, even if, in the strange whirligig of time, you were one day to take up arms against both. That, mercifully, will never come, and one merely uses it to illustrate the fact that even if England's foes could come to know her intimately, she would have few. - Perhaps often, in these papers, the last few sentences will seem to have been con-

tradicted. But there are differences between wholesale and retail, between detail and broad effect.

J. H. M. AnnoTT (Author of "Tommy Cornstalk").