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Salisbury Plain and the Stonehenge Barrows.
O the lover of our open downs it is refreshing to read of Salisbury Plain before it had been encroached upon, as now, by the plough. The Rev. William Gilpin, in his "Observations on the Western Parts of England, relative especially to Picturesque Beauty," dedicated to Speaker Addington, 1798, says: "The plain1 on which Stonehenge stands, is in the same style of greatness as the temple that adorns it. It extends many miles in all directions, in some not less than fifty. An eye unversed in these objects is filled with astonishment in viewing waste after waste rising out of each new horizon.
'Such appears the spacious plain
Of Sarum, spread like Ocean's boundless round,
"The ground is spread, indeed, as the poet observes, like the ocean; but it is like the ocean after a storm, it is continually heaving in large swells. Through all this vast district, scarce a cottage or even a bush appears. If you approach within two or three miles of the edge of the plain, you see, like the mariner within soundings, land at a distance, houses, trees, and villages; but all around is waste. Regions, like this, which have come down to us rude and untouched,
1 Stukeley was not insensible to the charms of " this delightful plain,
'Juvat arva videre
Nought can be sweeter than the air that moves o're this hard and dry chalky soil. Every step you take upon the smooth carpet, (literally) your nose is saluted with the most fragrant smell of serpillum and apium, which with the short grass continually cropt by the flocks of sheep, composes the softest and most verdant turf, extremely easy to walk on, and which rises, as with a spring, under one's feet." (p. 9.)
from the beginning of time, fill the mind with grand conceptions, far beyond the efforts of art and cultivation. Impressed by such views of nature, our ancestors worshipped the god of nature, in these boundless scenes, which gave them the highest conceptions of eternity. All the plain, at least that part of it near Stonehenge, is one vast cemetery. Everywhere, as we passed, we saw tumuli or barrows, as they are called, rising on each hand. These little mounds of earth are more curiously and elegantly shaped than any of the kind I remember elsewhere to have seen. They commonly rise in the form of bells, and each of them hath a neat trench fashioned round its base; though in their forms, and in the ornamental circles at their bases, some appear to be of more distinguished workmanship. They are of various sizes, sometimes of thirty, sometimes of forty, or fifty yards in diameter. From many places we counted above an hundred of them at once; sometimes as if huddled together without any design; in other places rising in a kind or order. By the rays of a setting sun, the distant barrows are most conspicuously seen. Every little summit being tipped with a splendid light, while the plain is in shadow, is at that time easily distinguished. Most of them are placed on the more elevated parts of the plain, and generally in sight of the great temple. That they are mansions of the dead is undoubted; many of them having been opened, and found to cover the bones both of men and beasts; the latter of which were probably sacrificed at the funeral. We suppose also that some of them contained the promiscuous ashes of a multitude, as Virgil describes them :
'Confusæ ingentem cædis acervum,
Nec numero, nec honore cremant. Tunc undique vasti
Indeed this mode of burial, as the most honourable, seems to have been dictated by the voice of nature. We meet with it in Homer; we meet with it in Herodotus. The vestiges of it are found on the vast plains of Tartary; and even among the savages of Guinea.
Though Salisbury Plain in Druid times was probably a very
busy scene, we now find it wholly uninhabited. Here and there we meet a flock of sheep scattered over the side of some rising ground; and a shepherd with his dog attending them; or perhaps we may descry some solitary waggon winding round a distant hill. But the only resident inhabitant of this vast waste is the bustard. This bird, which is the largest fowl we have in England, is fond of all extensive plains, and is found on several; but these are supposed to be his principal haunt. Here he breeds, and here he spends his summer-day, feeding with his mate on juicy berries, and the large dew-worms of the heath. As winter approaches, he forms into society. Fifty or sixty have been sometimes seen together. As the bustard leads his life in these unfrequented wilds, and studiously avoids the haunts of men, the appearance of anything in motion, though at a considerable distance, alarms him. As he is so noble a prize, his flesh so delicate, and the quantity of it so large, he is of course frequently the object of the fowler's stratagems. But his caution is generally a protection against them all. The scene he frequents, affords neither tree to shelter, nor hedge to skreen, an enemy; and he is so tall, that when he raises his neck to take a perspective view, his eye circumscribes a very wide horizon. All open attempts, therefore against him are fruitless. The fowler's most promising statagem is to conceal himself in a waggon. The west-country waggons, periodically travelling these regions, are objects to which the bustard is most accustomed; and though he retires at their approach, he retires with less evident signs of alarm, than from anything else. It is possible, therefore, if the fowler lies close in such a concealment, and with a long-barrelled gun can direct a good aim, he may make a lucky shot. Sometimes also he slips from the tail of a waggon a couple of swift greyhounds. They soon come up with the bustard, though he runs well; and if they can contrive to reach him, just as he is on the point to take wing (an operation which he performs with less expedition than is requisite in such critical circumstances) they may perhaps seize him.1
1 On the Bustard and its extinction in England, see Wilts Arch. Magazine, vol. ii., p. 212; also the interesting article on this bird, in vol. iii., by our Wiltshire ornithologist, as well as antiquary, the Rev. A. C. Smith. In Sir
"Some encroachments have been made by the plough, within these few years, upon Salisbury Plain. But these inroads, though considerable in themselves, bear little proportion to the vastness of these downy grounds. The plough is a heavy invader; and its perseverence only can produce a visible effect in so vast a scene.
"Another reason also may operate powerfully in preserving these wide domains in a state of nature. The soil is, in most places, very shallow, not above five or six inches above a rock of chalk; and as the tillage of two or three years exhausts it, without more expense than the land will answer, it hath been thought but ill husbandry to destroy a good sheep walk for a bad piece of arable land."
APPEARANCE OF STONEHENGE FROM THE PLAIN.
Mr. Warner truly says that "the distant effect of Stonehenge is not so striking as the description of its magnitude would lead us to imagine, since being an isolated object, situated in the heart of the plain, without anything around it for a standard of comparison, every impression of its greatness is swallowed up and overwhelmed in that idea of immensity which the prospect on every side presents to the mind. This very circumstance of unaccompanied locality, howevers heightens, perhaps, the effect of the fabric when we approach it, for the mind, not being interrupted or distracted by neighbouring objects, bends its undivided attention to the solitary wonder before it." And Mr. Fergusson justly observes of it that "when viewed from a distance the vastness of the open tract in which Stonehenge stands takes considerably from its impressiveness, but when the observer gets close to its great monolithic masses the solitary situation lends it a grandeur which scarce any other building of its class can be said to possess. 2
Richard Hoare's Ancient Wilts, i., 94, is a very curious account of two bustards having attacked men on horseback, near Tilshead, in June, 1801 In the Times newspaper of March 2nd, 1876, was a letter from the Rev. F. O. Morris, the well-known ornithologist, in which he stated that he had heard recently from a friend that a great bustard had taken up its quarters in the fens of Cambridgeshire, and he claimed for it the protection given by the recent Act of Parliament. It is vain to hope that the poor bird will be allowed to live at peace in England.
Warner's "Excursions from Bath," 1801, p. 172.
ON THE BARROWS
To the sanctity attaching to Stonehenge, the numerous and important "monumental hillocks" on the adjoining plain bear testimony, but no one who looked carefully at them, could, for a moment, entertain the idea that these were the graves of slaughtered heroes whom survivors had "buried darkly at the dead of night." They carry with them unmistakeable indications of having been leisurely and carefully made by a people who were living in peace and safety upon and around the neighbouring down. From the great size of many of them and their commanding positions on the more elevated portions of the plain, they are very striking objects, and greatly enhance the interest awakened by the stone circles, and their sacred precincts.
Leland describes those near Stonehenge as "monticuli illi ex egestâ terrâ conglobati ;" and Camden, writing of Wiltshire, says: "Many such artificial hills both round and pointed are to be seen in these parts, and are called burrowes or barrowes, probably thrown up in memory of soldiers slain thereabouts. Bones are found in them."
From the chapter on barrows in the "Monumenta Britannica" of Aubrey, part ii., and which has for its motto the following from Seneca, de Consolatione ad Polyb: "Quæ per constructionem lapidum, et marmoreas moles, aut terrenos tumulos in magnam eductos altitudinem constant, non propagabant longam diem, quippe et ipsæ intereunt," the writer has extracted the following notices of barrows in the neighbourhood of Stonehenge: "In the Farme of West Amesbury (within which is that famous Antiquity of Stoneheng) is a place called the King's Graves (which is now the Sheep-penning of West Amesbury) where doe appeare five small Barrows, or Tumuli,
1 Called "Lowes," in Derbyshire; "Howes," in Yorkshire. of mounds of earth or stone over the remains of the dead, is a practice," says Mr. Akerman, "which may be traced in all countries to the remotest times." Dr. Wilson adds that "their origin is to be sought for in the little heap of earth displaced by interment, which still to thousands suffices as the most touching memorial of the dead."
2 Comment de Script. Britann. De Ambrosio Merlino Cambro, 1709, p. 44.