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The Widow's Dog   By: (1787-1855)

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By Mary Russell Mitford

One of the most beautiful spots in the north of Hampshire a part of the country which, from its winding green lanes, with the trees meeting over head like a cradle, its winding roads between coppices, with wide turfy margents on either side, as if left on purpose for the picturesque and frequent gipsy camp, its abundance of hedgerow timber, and its extensive tracts of woodland, seems as if the fields were just dug out of the forest, as might have happened in the days of William Rufus one of the loveliest scenes in this lovely county is the Great Pond at Ashley End.

Ashley End is itself a romantic and beautiful village, struggling down a steep hill to a clear and narrow running stream, which crosses the road in the bottom, crossed in its turn by a picturesque wooden bridge, and then winding with equal abruptness up the opposite acclivity, so that the scattered cottages, separated from each other by long strips of garden ground, the little country inn, and two or three old fashioned tenements of somewhat higher pretensions, surrounded by their own moss grown orchards, seemed to be completely shut out from this bustling world, buried in the sloping meadows so deeply green, and the hanging woods so rich in their various tinting, along which the slender wreaths of smoke from the old clustered chimneys went smiling peacefully in the pleasant autumn air. So profound was the tranquillity, that the slender streamlet which gushed along the valley, following its natural windings, and glittering in the noonday sun like a thread of silver, seemed to the unfrequent visiters of that remote hamlet the only trace of life and motion in the picture.

The source of this pretty brook was undoubtedly the Great Pond, although there was no other road to it than by climbing the steep hill beyond the village, and then turning suddenly to the right, and descending by a deep cart track, which led between wild banks covered with heath and feathery broom, garlanded with bramble and briar roses, and gay with the purple heath flower and the delicate harebell, to a scene even more beautiful and more solitary than the hamlet itself.

One of the pleasantest moments that I have ever known, was that of the introduction of an accomplished young American to the common harebell, upon the very spot which I have attempted to describe. He had never seen that English wild flower, consecrated by the poetry of our common language, was struck even more than I expected by its delicate beauty, placed it in his button hole, and repeated with enthusiasm the charming lines of Scott, from the Lady of the Lake:

"For me," she stooped, and, looking round, Plucked a blue harebell from the ground, "For me, whose memory scarce conveys An image of more splendid days, This little flower, that loves the lea, May well my simple emblem be; It drinks heaven's dew as blithe as rose That in the King's own garden grows, And when I place it in my hair, Allan, a bard, is bound to swear He ne'er saw coronet so fair."

Still greater was the delight with which another American recognised that blossom of a thousand associations the flower sacred to Milton and Shakspeare the English primrose. He bent his knee to the ground in gathering a bunch, with a reverential expression which I shall not easily forget, as if the flower were to him an embodiment of the great poets by whom it has been consecrated to fame; and he also had the good taste not to be ashamed of his own enthusiasm. I have had the pleasure of exporting, this spring, to my friend Miss Sedgwick, (to whose family one of my visiters belongs,) roots and seeds of these wild flowers, of the common violet, the cowslip, and the ivy, another of our indigenous plants which our Transatlantic brethren want, and with which Mr... Continue reading book >>

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