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THE popularity of Gilbert White is so general, so durable, and so well founded, that a pilgrimage to his tomb in his native village of Selborne has become almost a necessary act of devotion on the part of every lover of nature. The monument which marks the resting-place of the bones of this most amiable, fascinating, and instructive describer of the country, is very humble; it is a small plain stone, placed erect at the head of the grave, of the following form, and with the following simple inscription:
The mould and the sod which cover the mortal remains of this illustrious man, have evidently been undisturbed from the time that he was laid in the dust, as recorded on the little stone; and the grass upon his grave is as soft as velvet and as green as an emerald, more finely emblematical of the gentleness yet freshness of his mind, and his ardent love of nature, than the most sumptuous tomb which the art of the sculptor could have executed. Within the church there is indeed a simple mural
slab of white marble, which has been transferred from the aisle to the chancel, because it was rather suffering in the former place; but this is not more instructive as to the character of the man than the humble little stone in the church-yard.
Gilbert White, however, needs no monument of stone or of marble, and though he never boasted in his life after the manner of the Roman Lyrist
"Exegi monumentum ære perennus,"
and probably never had one wish or expectation about the matter, no man ever left a more lasting memorial; the popularity of his book increases every day, and the whole parish of Selborne stands, and will stand, monumental to his memory.
In proceeding along the Southampton road from Farnham towards Alton, several very delightful views of the valley of the Alton branch of the Wey present themselves; now the river is concealed in luxuriant copse and ozier holt, now winding slowly along in a clear stream between rich meadows, and then expanding into small ponds and lakes, slumbering in the most perfect repose. In passing along this delightful place, when one arrives within a short distance of Alton, two hills of more lofty elevation, and of an exceedingly rich character, appear over the southern heights which skirt the valley of the stream, and show by the intervening mass of air that some sheltered and pleasant place lies in the interval. Another mass of air, though less extensive than the former, breaks in between these two hills; and, as they both slope down abruptly at their eastern extremities, the contour of the nearer one cuts" finely upon the more remote, and that again upon the sky; so that the expression is striking, and the character of the fore-ground throws back the hills in finely softened aerial perspective.
To the right-that is, immediately to the southward of Altonthe swelling fore-ground is more elevated, and the manner in which it cuts off the nearer hill leaves one to continue the picture in imagination, which is always a source of far greater delight to those who have a true feeling of scenery than if the whole were displayed at once. Of these two hills, the nearer one is Selborne Hill, rising to the west, or rather to the south-west of the village, and sheltering it from the south-west winds, which are the strongest in this part of England. From the road, the
Hanger," which is the general name given in this part of the
country to a wood or copse on a steep slope, is the only portion of Selborne Hill that is seen, except the terminating slope eastwards, the upper part of which, the Hanger approaches but does not altogether reach, and on the interinediate part there appears a few scattered trees, which tell more distinctly against the sky than one would expect from their distance. The treeless portion of the surface is variegated with low brush-wood, and scattered grass, and cattle runs, and winding paths; but when seen from the road these are indistinct, and merely take off the tameness which a uniform surface would give to it.
The more distant hill is Nore Hill, and its character contrasts well with that of Selborne Hill. Like that, it is wooded, but the wood is of a different character. Selborne Hanger is one unbroken mass of the most luxuriant foliage, in which, at a distance, no division of parts or distinction of tree from tree can be observed. The trees on Nore Hill, on the other hand, are clumpy, broken into distinct masses even where thickest, and melting away into scattered individual trees or bushes of smaller dimensions. On a sunny evening the light must tell beautifully on those hills, from the position in which they stand. Selborne Hill must then be in that indescribable shade of purplish green which is shown by the shadow upon very rich places; the eastern part and the same side of the clumps upon Nore Hill must partake of the gray; and then the sun beating brightly upon the naked part of Nore Hill westward, streaming in through the openings between, and touching a point here and a point there with mellowed light, till the whole fades away into the subdued tint of the eastern part, must present a chiar' oscuro at which an artist who can feel the natural grouping of lights in a landscape would be perfectly delighted. Such is the first, or, as we may call it, the Pisgah" view that the pilgrim thitherward obtains of Selborne. After this foretaste of the anticipated beauties of Selborne, slight though it be, one whose principal object is the further exploring of it can have little inducement to linger long at Alton; yet Alton is a very pretty place, pleasantly situated on a hill sloping southward, clean, snug, and comfortable, with a fine little stream in the bottom of the valley, and pleasant grounds on the opposite bank. Indeed there is a grouping about the general scenery in this part of the country which, whatever may be its more individual character, prevents it from monotony. The fields are open, and the woods are clustered and placed in the situations
where one likes best to find them, that is, where the trees thrive best, and yet occupy those portions of the soil which from steepness or other qualities are least available for agricultural purposes.
The carriage road from Alton to Selborne is rather circuitous. It is the Southampton road for about five miles to Tisted; and then there is a winding country road of between three and four miles more to Selborne. The Southampton road is good, but the country road is very bad, lying along a winding hollow from which little or nothing can be seen; and by this approach there is no view of Selborne till one arrives at the village itself, and even there one can scarcely believe that it is a village at all, until the Playstow and the church are arrived at. Even here the twist of the road, or street as it is termed, takes 'off every thing like a view, and thus, if one wishes to receive the meanest first impression possible of Selborne, the most certain way of succeeding is to come to it by this the carriage road. The old carriage road across the hills from Alton is rather worse. It enters the village at the same point with the road from Tisted; and all the way from Harteley, which is at least two miles, the traveller sees little, save a narrow stripe of the sky, and steep banks, almost perpendicular, so near to each other that one carriage cannot pass another except at particular points, and presenting a mass of tangled roots interspersed with shivered rocks. This is one of the "deep lanes" described by White as being peculiarly characteristic of this part of the country. It is indeed the deepest of the whole, being eighteen or twenty feet near the Selborne end, and it continues not less than ten feet until Selborne is fairly out of view. The other approach from the eastward, from Woolmer Forest across the Temple farm, is also in a deep lane, not quite so deep as the former, and not so much tangled with brushwood; but still deep enough to put the obtaining of a general view of Selborne out of the question. The only road at all available for a carriage, from which the village or any part of it can be seen, is that from the south, which comes twining round the south-eastern extremity of Selborne Hill, but from this the village is not worth looking at; so that, though viewed as a whole Selborne is a very beautiful place, there is no possibility of obtaining even a tolerable first or general view of it and at the same time enjoying the luxury of a carriage. Hence, to understand and enjoy Selborne properly, the visitor must con
sent to be a pedestrian across the hills, or rather swelling grounds, from Alton, the distance being about from four to five miles.
From the nature of the soil, which is generally speaking very tough and retentive, winter travelling along the foot-path here must be a work of " 'difficulty and labour hard," as Milton expresses it; and even after a summer shower the path is greasy withal. It is also beset with a great number of stiles, with no steps to facilitate the crossing; but one journeying toward Selborne must not mind those little matters, and, as the foot-path is one of ups and downs, it is never very deep, or very long in drying after a shower. It is first up the slope from Alton, then down again to Trunchion, and so gradually up another slope by West Wordleham and Hartley Farm, which last slope is long but not steep, but all the while there is no appearance of Selborne. After the last long slope is turned, however, and the descent, which is also gradual, is so far made, Selborne, of which the hills have again been seen from the top of the slope, makes its appearance in exactly the manner which one would wish in order to have a general impression of it unbroken by details. A hedge forms the immediate fore-ground, over which the church and steeple, and a portion of the vicarage house, make their appearance. Clumps of trees conceal the village, but display over the vicarage a very finely wooded park of about twenty acres, which