« PreviousContinue »
THE ABSENTEE LANDLORD
world charm now rarely found. From the little lattice windows which looked out upon a patch of garden, most of the inhabitants as children had seen the postchaises and gay-jacketed postilions sweep by on their way to London, had heard the merry sound of the coach-horn, and seen carriages full of gaily-dressed gentlemen and ladies driving to local festivities. Wealthy landowners and peers formerly kept up a good deal of state, besides presiding at local dinners and riding at the head of their tenantry on certain occasions. The consequence was that they were looked upon as part of regular institutions necessary to the well-being of the country at large, besides which in many instances they were regarded with genuine affection and pride. During the last quarter of a century this has all been changed. An enormous number of family places are now permanently let to rich stockbrokers and wealthy aliens who, though often generous and ready to spend any amount of money, are seldom regarded with any particular love or respect.
As for the absentee landlord, here to-day and gone to-morrow, it is only natural that in many instances no one knows much or cares much about him. The well-to-do classes have to a great extent deserted the country except for sport. Most of the small local gentry, who in old days constituted quite a powerful class, have either been sucked into the nearest big town or have gone to live in London; while those who are left eke out a sort of moribund
existence, bewailing a past in which they counted for a good deal more than is the case to-day-indeed the small landowners and little squires were formerly a most important link in a social chain which beginning with the Sovereign ended with the hind who toiled in the fields. To-day, the poor country gentry for the most part lead gloomy lives. Considered too dull to be asked up to the great house by the "gentleman from London," who, besides, brings his own house-parties with him, and too proud to make any attempt to conciliate the Croesus in question, not a few spend a good deal of their time deploring the vulgarity of modern days and the decadence of the old aristocracy which once used to live in the district. They are out of touch with the class above them, and consequently have lost most of the Conservative ardour which was one of their chief characteristics in the good old days.
Some of this class lead such an uneventful life that they may be said to exist rather than to live, though it must be admitted that the majority of such households are models of conjugal peace. Even this, however, is sometimes not an unmixed blessing.
Archdeacon Paley, a very sociable divine, being once asked whether the life of a gentleman who had not even had an argument with his wife for more than thirty years was not admirable as a domestic example, dryly replied: "No doubt it was verra praiseworthy, but it must have been verra dool."
The monotony and absence of amusements which
A GLOOMY ROUND
is often inseparable from country life is no doubt largely responsible for driving the population into large towns.
People of small means and average intelligence also suffer from the lack of sufficient social intercourse. In many homes the days follow and resemble each other with almost killing regularity: the husband comes back after a hard day's work to dinner or tea, which he eats in silence in company with his wife, whose stock of ideas he has long ago exhausted, as indeed she has his; the children realize that there is no very great prospect of a prosperous future, and in due course of time the more ambitious amongst them migrate into cities, where, if competition is keener, life is more bright and active. Those who do remain behind are now seldom content to follow the humdrum ways of their forefathers, and such as possess enterprise and a little capital devote their energies to developing such property as they possess or can get hold of, running up cottages and villas, generally of quite surprising ugliness, and pulling down old houses which are not up to date.
Though there has been some improvement in the way old historical edifices are dealt with, the national attitude towards these venerable and often beautiful relics of the past still stands in need of improvement.
The little this country really cares for its ancient monuments was shown by the apathy exhibited concerning the removal from Tattershall Castle—it was said for sale to some American-of the famous
15th-century Tattershall fireplaces—the finest example of their kind, taken as models when the present Houses of Parliament were built.
All honour to Lord Curzon, who, in the most public-spirited manner, first purchased the remains of the castle from which they had been torn and then rescued the fireplaces, which he is going to put back in their places, whilst as far as possible restoring the castle and its surroundings to their original condition.
It seems a pity that in this age of regulation no attempt has been made to see that villages as they are gradually rebuilt should be erected in a fitting style of architecture; it is a melancholy fact that modern country taste is execrable, and glories in the erection of the most hideous kind of house; in fact, in this respect country people are far worse than townsmen, many of whom fully realize the charm of an ancient edifice. When the rebuilding and restoration mania got into full swing, the cathedrals and, in an even worse degree, the village churches of England suffered terribly.
What happened then cannot be better described than in the words of Joseph Hall, Bishop of Norwich, who in a tract called "Hard Measure," upbraided the vandalism of the Reformation.
"Lord, what work was here! What clattering of glasses! what beating down of walls! what tearing up of monuments! what pulling down of seats! what wresting out of iron and brass from windows and frames! what demolishing of curious stonework that