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THE COUNTRY SERMON.
It was a shining Sunday morn,
“How all the sweetest sounds of earth,
A CERTAIN sadness is pardonable to one who Railway from Peterborough to Huntingdon, what 3 watches the destruction of a grand natural phe- grand place, even twenty years ago, was that Holme nomenon, even though its destruction bring blessings and Whittlesea, which is now but a black, unto the human race. Reason and conscience tell us, sightly, steaming fat; from which tho meres and that it is right and good that the great I'en should reed-beds of the old world are gone, while the corn have become, instead of a waste and howling wilder- and roots of the new world have not as yet taken ness, a garden of the Lord, where
their place. “ All the land in flowery squares,
But grand enough it was, that black ugly plaer, Beneath a broad and equal-blowing wind, when backed by Caistor Hauglands and Holm Wood, Smells of the coming summer.”
and the patches of the primaval forest; while darkAnd yet the fancy may linger, without blame, over green alders, and pale-green reeds, stretched for the shining meres, the golden reed-beds, the count- miles round the broad lagoon, where the coot elanked, less water-fowl, the strange and gaudy insects, the and the bittern booined, and the sedge-bird, not conwild nature, the mystery, the majesty-for mystery tent with its own swect song, mocked the notes of all and majesty there were—which haunted the deep the birds around; while high overhead hung, motionfens for many a hundred years. Little thinks the less, hawk beyond hawk, buzzard beyond buzzarı, Scotsman, whirled down by the Great Northern kite beyond kite, as far as eye could see.
upon the silver mere, would rise a puff of smoke from fens, with their intermediate beds of coral-rag and a punt, invisible from its flatness and its white paint. green sand, had been deposited; after the chalk had Then down the wind came the boom of the great been laid on the top of them, at the bottom of some stanchion-gun; and after that sound another sound, ancient ocean; after (and what a gulf of time is louder as it neared ; a cry as of all the bells of Cam- implied in that last “after !") the boulder-clay bridge, and all the hounds of Cottesmore; and over- (cooval probably with the "till ” of Scotland) had head rushed and whirled the skein of terrified wild- been spread out in the “age of ice" on top of all; fowl, screaming, piping, clacking, croaking, filling after the whole had been upheaved out of the sea, the air with the hoarse rattle of their wings, while and stood about the same level as it stands now: clear above all sounded the wild whistle of the curlew, but before the great valley of the Cam had been | and the trumpet note of the great white swan. scooped out, and the strata were still continuous,
They are all gone now. No longer do the ruffs some 200 feet above Cambridge and its colleges, trample the sedge into a hard floor in their fighting- from the top of the Gogmagogs to the top of Madingrings, while the sober reeves stand round, admiring ley Rise. the tournament of their lovers, gay with ears and In those ages—while the valleys of the Cam, the tippets, no two of them alike. Gone are ruffs and Ouse, the Nene, the Welland, the Glen, and the reeves, spoonbills, bitterns, avosets; the very snipe, Witham were sawing themselves out by no violent one hears, disdains to breed. Gone too, not only convulsions, but simply, as I believe, by the same from Whittlesea, but from the whole world, is that slow action of rain and rivers by which they are most exquisite of English butterflies--Lycæna dispar sawing backward into the land even now-I “seem -the great copper; and many a curious insect more. to see " a time when the Straits of Dover did not Ah, well, at least we shall have wheat and mutton exist–a time when a great part of the German Ocean instead; and no more typhus and aguo; and it is to was dry land. Through it, into a great estuary be hoped, no more brandy-drinking and opium-eat-between North Britain and Norway, flowed together ing; and children will live and not die. For it was all the rivers of north-eastern Europe-Elbe, Weser, a hard place to live in, the old Fen; a place wherein Rhine, Scheldt, Seine, Thames, and all the rivers of one heard of “unexampled instances of longevity,” for east England, as far north as the Humber. the same reason that one hears of them in savage And if a reason be required for so daring a theory tribes—that few lived to old age at all, save those - first started, if I recollect right, by the lato iron constitutions which nothing could break down. lamented Edward Forbes—a sufficient one may be
And now, when the bold Fen-men, who had been found in one look over a bridge, in any river of the fighting water by the help of wind, have given up east of England. There we see various species of the more capricious element for that more ma- Cyprinidæ, "rough” or “white" fish-roach, dace, nageable servant, fire; have replaced their wind- chub, bream, and so forth, and with them their mills by steam - engines, which will work in all natural attendant and devourer, the pike. Weathers; and have pumped the whole fen dry- Now these fish belong almost exclusively to the even too dry, as the last hot summer proved; when same system of rivers- those of north-east Europe. the only bit of the primæval wilderness left, as far They attain their highest development in the great as this writer knows, is two hundred acres of sweet lakes of Sweden. Westward of the Straits of Dover sedge and Lastræa thelypteris in Wicken Fen: there they are not indigenous. They may be found in can be no harm in lingering awhile over the the streams of south and western England; but in past, and telling of what the great Fen was, and every case, I believe, they have been introduced how it came to be that great flat which reaches either by birds or by men. From some now sub(roughly speaking) from Cambridge to Peterborough merged “centre of creation” (to use poor Edward on the south-west side, to Lynn and Tattershall Forbes's formula) they must have spread into the on the north-cast, some forty miles and more each rivers where they are now found; and spread by fresh way.
water, and not by salt, which would destroy them in To do that rightly, and describe how the Fen
a single tide. came to be, one must go back, it seems to this Again, there lingers in the Cam, and a few other writer, to an age before all history; an age which rivers of north-eastern Europe, that curious fish tho cannot be measured by years or centuries; an age eel-pout or “burbot” (Molra lota). Now he is utterly shrouded in mystery, and to be spoken of only in distinct from any other fresh-water fish of Europe. guesses. To assert anything positively concerning His nearest ally is the ling (Molva vulgaris)"; a deepthat age, or ages, would be to show the rashness of sea fish, even as his ancestors have been. Originignorance. “I think that I believe,” “I have good ally a deop-sea form, he has found his way up the reason to suspect,” “I seem to see,” are the strongest rivers, even to Cambridge, and there remains. The forms of speech which ought to be used over a matter rivers by which he came up, the land through so vast, and as yet so little elaborated.
which he passed, ages and ages since, have been all “I scem to see," then, an epoch after those strata swept away; and he has never found his way back were laid down with which geology generally deals; to his native salt-water, but lives' on in a strange after the Kimmeridge clay, Oxford clay, and Gault land, degraded in form, dwindling in numbers, and clay, which form the impervious bedding of the now fast dying out. The explanation may be strange:
but it is the only one which I can offer to explain Sweden, some twenty years ago. Into Sweden, the fact—which is itself much more strange-of the then, as into England, the little fresh-water tortoise burbot being found in the Fen rivers.
had wandered, as to an extreme limit, beyond which Another proof may be found in the presence of the the change of climate, and probably of food, killed edible fróg of the continent at Foulmire, on the edge him off. of the Cambridge Fens. « It is a moot point still with But the
which to the Wretham bog some, whether he was not put there by man. It is must have had a long journey; and a journey by a still stronger argument against his boing indige- fresh water too. Down Elbe or Weser he must nous, that he is never mentioned as an article of food have floated, ice-packed, or swept away by flood, till by the mediæyal monks, who would have known- somewhere off the Doggerbank, in that great netFrenchmen, Italians, Germans, as many of thom were work of rivers which is now open sea, he ---that he is as dainty as ever was a spring chicken. descendants turned up Ouse and Little Ouse, till they But if he be indigenous, his presence proves that found a mere like their old Prussian one, and there once he could either hop across the Straits of founded a tiny colony for a few generations, till they Dover, or swim across the German Ocean,
were enten up by the savages of the table dwelling; But there can be no doubt of the next proof. The or died out as many a human family has died outpresence in the Fens-where he is now probably ex- because they found the world too hard. tinct-and in certain spots in East Anglia, which this It was thus necessary, in order to account for the writer will take cara not to mention, of that exquisite presence of sone of the common animals of the fen, little bird the “Bearded Tit” (Calamophilus biarmicus). to go back to an epoch of immense remoteness, Tit he is none; rather, it is said, a finch, but con- And how was that great lowland swept away? nected with no other English bird. His central home Who can tell? Probably by no violent convulsion. is in the marshes of Russia and Prussia ; his food the Slow upheavals, slow depressions, there may have mollusks which swarm among the reed-beds where been-indeed must have been—as the sunken firhe builds; and feeding on those from reed-bed to forests of Brancaster, and the raised beach of Hunreed-bed, all across what was once the German Ocean, stanton, on the extreme north-east corner of the has come the beautiful little bird with long tail, orange Wash, testify to this day. But the main agent of tawny plumage, and black moustache, which might destruction has been, doubtless, that same ever-gniwhave been seen forty years ago in hundreds on every ing-seu-wash which devours still the soft strata of the reed-rond of the Fen.
whole east coast of England, as far as Flamborough One more proof- for it is the heaping up facts, head'; and that great scavenger, the tide-wave, which cach minute by itself, which issues often in a sound sweeps the fallen rubbish out to sea twice in every and great result. In draining Wretham Moro, in twenty-four hours. Wave and tide by sea, rain Norfolk, not so very far from the Fens, in the year and river by land; these are God's mighty mills 1856, there were found embedded in the peat moss
in which he makes the old world new. And as (which is not the Scotch and Western: Sphagnum Longfellow says of moral things, so may we of palustre, but an altogether different moss, Hyprum physical:fluitans), remains of an ancient lake-dwelling, sup- “ Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind ported on piles. A dwelling like those which have exceeding small. lately attracted $0.much notice in the lakes of Though le sit, and wait with patience, with exactress Switzerland : like those which the Dyaks make
grinds He all." about the ports and rivers of Borneo; dwellings
The lighter and more soluble particles, during that invented, it seems to me,, to enable the inhabitants slow but vast destruction which is going on still to to escape not wild beasts only, but malaria and might this day, have been carried far out to sea, and depofrosts; and, perched above the cold and poisonous sited as ooze. The heavier and coarser have been left fogs, to sleep, if not high and dry, at least high and along the shores, as the gravels which fill the old healthy,
estuaries of the east of England. In this district had been previously found, in the From these gravels we can judge of the larger peat, two shells of the fresh-water tortoise, Emys animals which dwelt in that old world. About luiaria, till then unknown in England.
these lost lowlands wandered herds of the woolly These little animals, who may be seen in hundreds mammoth, Elephas primigenius, whose bones are in the meres of eastern Europe, sunning their backs common in certain Cambridge gravels, whose teeth on fallen logs, and diving into the water at the sound are brought up by dredgers, far out in the German of a footstep, are eaten largely in continental capitals Ocean, off certain parts of the Norfolk coast. With (as is their cousin the terrapin, Emys picta, in the them wanderod the woolly rhinoceros (R. tichorkinis) Southern States). They may be bought at Paris, at the hippopotamus, the lion—not (nccording to fashionable restaurants. Thither they may have been some) to be distinguished from the recent lion of sent from Vienna or Berlin ; for in north France, Africa—the hyæna, tho bear, the horse, the reindeer, Holland, and north-west Germany they are unknown, and the musk ox; tho'great Irish elk, whose vast A few specimens have been found buried in peat in
* For these details I am indebted to a paper in the Sweden and Denmark; and there is a tale of a live “ Annals of Natural History,” for September, 1862, by one having been found in the extreme south part of my friend, Professor Alfred Newton, of Cambridge.
horns are so well known in every museum of northern which ended in the production of the drift (the Europe; and that mighty ox, the Bos primigenius, which boulder clay, or till), was effected during a time of still lingered on the continent in Cæsar's time, as the vast, but unknown length. And if we limit our irus, in magnitude less only than the elephant,--and inquiries, and ask what was the interval of time not to be confounded with the bison, a relation of, if between the newest. bed of gravel near Cambridge, not identical with, the buffalo of North America, and the oldest bed of bog-land or silt in Cambridgewhich still lingers, carefully preserved by the Czar, shire and Norfolk, we are utterly at a loss for a in the forests of Lithuania.
definite answer. The interval of time may have The remains of this gigantic ox, be it rememhered, been very great. But we have no scale on which to are found throughout Britain, and even into the measure it.” 11 11. . Shetland Isles. Would that any gentleman who Let us suppose, then, the era of “gravels" past; may see these pages, would take notice of the fact, the valleys which open into the fen sawn out by that we have not (so I am informed) in these islands rivers to about their present depth. What was the a single perfect skeleton of Bos primigenius , while the special cause of the fen itself? why did not the great Museum of Copenhagen, to its honour, possesses five lowland become a fertile « cirse "' of firm alluvial e six from a much smaller, field than is open to us; soil, like that of Stirling ? :. and be public spirited enough, the next time he hears One reason is, that the carse of Stirling has been of ox-bones, whether in gravel or in peat (as he may upheaved some twenty feet, and thereby more or less in the draining of any northern, moss), to preserve drained, since the time of the Romans. A fact patent them for the museum of his neighbourhood-or send and provable from Cramond (the old Roman port of them to Cambridge.
Alaterna) up to Blair Drummond above Stirling, But did all these animals exist at the same time? where whales skeletons (and bone tools by them), It is difficult to say, The study of the different have been found in loam and peat, twenty feet above gravels is most intricate--almost a special science in high-water mark. The alluvíum of the fens, on the itself—in which but two or three men are adepts. other hand, has very probably suffered a slight It is hard, at first sight, to believe that the hippopo- depression. tamus could have been the neighbour of the Arctic · But the main reason is, that the silt brought down reindeer and musk ox: but that the woolly mammoth by the fen rivers cannot, like that of the Forth and not only may have been such, but was such, there its neighbouring streams, get safe away to sea. can be no doubt, His remains, imbedded in ice at From Flamborough Head, in Yorkshire, all down the mouth of the great Siberian rivers, with the wool, the Lincolnshire coast, the land is falling, falling for skin, and flesh (in some cases) still remaining on the ever into the sea ; and swept southward by tide and bones, prove him to have been fitted for a cold climate, current, the debris turns into the Wash between and to have browsed upon the scanty shrubs of Nor- Lincolnshire and Norfolk, there to repose, as in a them Asia. But, indeed, there is no reason, à priori, quiet haven. why these huge mammals, now confined to botter Hence that vast labyrinth of banks between Lynn ! countries, should not have once inhabited a colder and Wisbeach, of mud inside, brought down by the | region, or at least have wandered northwards in whole fen rivers, but outsido (contrary to the usual rule) of
herds in summer, to escape insects, and find fresh shifting sand, which has come inward from the sea, : food, and above all, water. The same is the case with and prevents the mud's escape. Banks parted by
the lion, and other huge beasts of prey. The tiger narrow gullies, the delight of the gunner with his of Hindostan ranges, at least in summer, across the punt, haunted by million wild-fowl in winter, and in snows of the Himalaya, and throughout China. Even summer hazy steaming flats, beyond which the trees at the river Amoor, where the winters are as severe of Lincolnshire loom up, raised by refraction far 13 at St. Petersburg, the tiger is an ordinary resi- above the horizon, while the masts and sails of distant dent at all seasons.* The lion was, undoubtedly, an vessels quiver, fantastically distorted and lengthened, inhabitant of Thrace as late as the expedition of sometimes even inverted, by a refraction like that Xerxes, whose camels they attacked; and the “Ne- which plays such tricks with ships and coasts in the inaan lion," and the other lions which stand out in Arctic seas. Along the top of the mud banks lounge Grecian myth, as having been killed by Hercules and the long black rows of seals, undistinguishable from the heroes, may have been the last remaining speci- their reflection in the still water below; distorted mens of that Felis spelæa (undistinguishable, accord- too, and magnified to the size of elephants. Long ing to some, from the African lion), whose bones are lines of sea-pies wing their way along at regular found in the gravels and the caverns of these isles. tide-hours, from or to the ocean. Now and then a
And how long ago were those days of mammoths skein of geese paddle hastily out of sight round a and reindeer, lions and hyænas? We must talk not mud-cape; or a brown robber gull (generally of days, but of ages; we know nothing of days or Richardson's Skua) raises a tumult of screams, by years. As Professor Sedgwick has well said :- making a raid upon a party of honest white gulls, to “We allow that the great European oscillation, frighten them into vomiting up their prey for his
benefit; or a single cormorant flaps along, close to * See “ The Zoology of Ancient Europe,” by Professor the water, towards his fishing ground. Even the fish Sewton.
are shy of haunting a bottom which shifts with
every storin ; and innumerable shrimps are almost Middle Age preserved the Fauna and Flora of the the only product of the shallow barren sea : beside, primæval forest, haunted by the descendants of some all is silence and desolation, as of a world waiting at least of those wild beasts which roamed on the to be made.
older continent of the “gravel age.” The all-preSo strong is the barrier which these sca-borne serving peat, as well as the monkish records of the sands oppose to the river-borne ooze, that as soon as carly Middle Age, enable us to repeople, tolerally a sea-bank is built--as the projectors of the “Victoria well, the primæval fen. County" have built them-across any part of the The gigantic ox, Bos primigenirs, is still there, estuary, the mud caught by it soon “warps" the though there is no record of him in monkish tales. space within into firm and rich dry land. But that But with him has appeared (not unknown toward the same barrier, ere the fen was drained, backed up for end of the gravel age) another ox, smaller and with ages not only the silt, but the very water of the fens; shorter horns, Bos longifrons, which is held to be the and spread it inland into a labyrinth of shifting ancestor of our own domestic short-horns, and of the streams, shallow meres, and vast peat bogs, on those wild cattle still preserved at Chillingham and at impervious clays which floor the fun. Each river Cadzow. The reindeer has disappeared, almost or contributed to the formation of those bogs and meres, altogether. The red dear, of a size beside which the instead of draining them away; repeating on a huge largest Scotch stag is puny, and even the great Carscale the process which may be seen in many a high- pathian stag inferior, abound; so does the roe; so land strath, where the ground at the edge of the does the goat, which one is accustomed to look on as stream is firm and high; the meadows near the hill- a mountain animal. In the Woodwardian Museum foot, a few hundred yards away, bogland lower than there is a portion of a skull of an ibex-probably the bank of the stream. For each flood deposits its Capra sibirica—which was found in the drift-gravel at silt upon
the immediate bank of the river, raising it Fulbourne. Wild shcep are unknown. The horse year by year; till--as in tho case of the “ Levée" of occurs in the peat; but whether wild or tame, who the Mississippi, and probably of every one of the old can tell ? Horses enough have been mired and fen rivers-the stream shall run at last between two drowned since the Romans set foot on this island, to natural dykes, at a level considerably higher than account for the presence of horses' skulls, without the that of the now swamped and undrainable lands right hypothesis of wild hords, such as doubtless existed in and left of it.
the gravel times. The wolf, of course, is common; If we add to this, a slope in the fen rivers so ex- wild cat, marten, badger, and otter all would expects traordinarily slight, that the river at Cambridge is but not so the beaver, which nevertheless is abundant only thirteen and a half feet above the mean sea in the peat; and damage enough the busy fellows level, five-and-thirty miles away, and that if the must have done, eutting trees, damming streams, great sea-sluice of Denver, the key of all the eastern flooding marshes, and like selfish speculators in all fen, were driven away, the tide would back up the ages, sacrificing freely the public interest to their Cam to within ten miles of Cambridge; if we add Here and there are found the skulls of bears, again the rainfall upon that vast flat arca, utterly in one case that of a polar bear, ice-drifted; and one unable to escape through rivers which have enough of a walrus, probably washed in dead after a storm. to do to drain the hills around; it is easy to un Beau after their kind, were these fen-islos, in derstand how peat, the certain product of standing the eyes of the monks who were the first settlers in water, has slowly overwhelmed the rich alluvium, the wilderness. The author of the History of Ramsey fattened by the washing of those phosphatic green-grows enthusiastic, and, after the manner of old monks, sand beds, which (discovered by the science of the somewhat bombastie also, as he describes the lonely lamented Professor Henslow) are now yielding round isle, which got its name from tho solitary ram who Cambridge supplies of manure seemingly inexhaust- had wandered thither, either in some extreme drought ible. Easy it is to understand how the all-devouring, or over the winter ice, and never able to return was yet all-preserving peat-moss swallowed up gradually found, fat beyond the wont of rams, feeding among the stately forests of fir and oak, ash and poplar, the wild deer. He tells of the stately ashes--most of hazel and yew, which once grew on that rank land; them cut in his time, to furnish mighty beams for how trees, torn down by ilood or storm, floated and the church roof; of the rich pastures painted with all lodged in rafts, damming the waters back still more; guy flowers in spring; of the “green crown” of reed how streamis, bewildered in the flats, changed their and alder which girdled round tho isle; of the fair channels, mingling silt and sand with the peat-moss; wide mere with its “sandy beach” along the forest how Nature, left to herself, ran into wild riot and side: “a delight," he says, “to all who look thereon." chaos more and more; till the whole fen became one In like humour, William of Malmesbury, writing “Dismal Swamp," in which the “Last of the Eng- in the first half of the twelfth century, speaks of lish” (like Dred in Mrs. Stowe's tale) took refuge Thorney Abbey and isle. “It represents," he says, from their tyrants, and lived, like hin, a frce and “a very Paradise, for that in pleasuro and delight it joyous life awhile.
resemblos heaven itself. Those marshes abound in For there were islands, and are still, in that wide trees, whose length without a knot doth emulato the fen, which have escaped the destroying deluge of stars. The plain there is as level as the sea, which peat-moss; outcrops of firm land, which even in the with green grass allures the eye, and so smooth that