Philip Augustus, Or, The Brothers in Arms: Volume 1

J. & J. Harper

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J. & J. Harper
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Dec 31, 1831
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There is a small town in one of the remote provinces of France, about ten miles from the sea shore, and two or three hundred from the capital, on the appearance of which it may be as well to dwell for a short time; noticing not alone its houses and its streets as they appeared in the seventeenth century, but its inhabitants, their feelings, and their customs, at that period.
Were we not to make this formal sort of presentation, the reader would feel as if set down suddenly amidst a crowd of strangers with no one to introduce him, with no one to unpadlock the barrier which the cautious laws of society set up between man and man, to guard against the wild-beast propensities of the race of intellectual tigers to which we belong. Now, however, if we manage skilfully, the reader may become as familiar with the people of another day, and scenes of another land, as if they had been the playfellows of his childhood, and the haunts of his youth; and may go on calmly with those to whom he is thus introduced through the dark and painful events which are recorded in the pages that follow.
That part of France in which our scene is laid, presents features which differ very much from the dull and uninteresting aspect of the land from Calais to Paris, and from Paris to the mountains of Switzerland--the route generally pursued by our travelling countrymen, whether they go forth to make what is usually called the grand tour, or content themselves with idling away a long space of mispent time amongst the Helvetian mountains. In the district that I speak of, the face of the country, though it cannot perhaps be called mountainous, is richly varied, running up into occasional high and pointed hills, presenting frequent masses of rock and wood, diversified by a mile or two, here and there, of soft pasture and meadow; with innumerable streams--some calm and peaceful, some fierce and torrent-like, some sparkling and playful, giving an air of life and glad activity to the land through which they flow. These manifold streams shed also a hue of indescribable verdure, a fresh leafyness of aspect, that is most grateful to the eye; and though there is not there, as in our own land, the frequent hedge-row, with its sweet village associations, yet there is no want of high umbrageous trees scattered here and there, besides the thick woods that, in many places, occupy several leagues in extent, and the lesser copses that nest themselves in many a dell.
It was on the evening of a beautiful day in the beginning of September, 1456--one of those fair autumn days that wean us, as it were, from the passing summer, with the light as bright, and the sky as full of rays, as in the richest hours of June; and with nothing but a scarce perceptible shade of yellow in the woods to tell that it is not the proudest time of the year's prime. It was in the evening, as I have said; but nothing yet betokened darkness. The sun had glided a considerable way on his descent down the bright arch of the western sky, yet without one ray being shadowed, or any lustre lost. He had reached that degree of declination alone, at which his beams, pouring from a spot a little above the horizon, produced, as they streamed over forest and hill, grand masses of light and shade, with every here and there a point of dazzling brightness, where the clear evening rays were reflected from stream or lake.

It was in the heart of a deep forest, too, whose immemorial trees, worn away by time, or felled by the axe, left in various places wide open spaces of broken ground and turf, brushwood and dingle,--and amidst whose deep recesses a thousand spots rich in woodland beauty lay hidden from the eye of man. Those were not, indeed, times when taste and cultivation had taught the human race to appreciate fully all the charms and magnificence wherewith nature's hand has robed the globe which we inhabit; and the only beings that then trod the deeper glades of the forest were the woodman, the hunter, or those less fortunate persons who--as we see them represented by the wild pencil of Salvator Rosa--might greatly increase the picturesque effect of the scenes they frequented; but, probably, did not particularly feel it themselves. But there is, nevertheless, in the heart of man, a native sense of beauty, a latent sympathy, a harmony with all that is lovely on the earth, which makes him unconsciously seek out spots of peculiar sweetness, not only for his daily dwelling, but also for both his temporary resting place, and for the mansion of his long repose, whether the age or the country be rude or not.

Look at the common cemetery of a village, and you will generally find that it is pitched in the most picturesque spot to be found in the neighbourhood. If left to his free will, the peasant will almost always--without well knowing why--build his cottage where he may have something fair or bright before his eyes; and the very herd, while watching his cattle or his sheep, climbs up the face of the crag, to sit and gaze over the fair expanse of Nature's face.

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