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were, for the most part, on a slope, often thickly strewn with stones
which jar and fracture iron.

The soil was thin, scarce enough on the upper part to turn a furrow,
deepening to nine inches or so at the bottom. So quickly does the rain
sink in, and so quickly does it dry, that the teams work in almost every
weather, while those in the vale are enforced to idleness. Drain furrows
were not needed, nor was it desirable that the ground should be thrown
up in "lands," rising in the centre. Oxen were the draught animals,
patient enough, but certainly not nimble. The share had to be set for
various depths of soil.

All these are met by the wheel plough, and in addition it fulfils the
indefinite and indefinable condition of handiness. A machine may be
apparently perfect, a boat may seem on paper, and examined on
principles, the precise build, and yet when the one is set to work and
the other floated they may fail. But the wheel plough, having grown up,
as it were, out of the soil, fulfils the condition of handiness.

This handiness, in fact, embraces a number of minor conditions which can
scarcely be reduced to writing, but which constantly occur in practice,
and by which the component parts of the plough were doubtless
unconsciously suggested to the makers. Each has its proper name. The
framework, on wheels in front - the distinctive characteristic of the
plough - is called collectively "tacks," and the shafts of the plough
rest on it loosely, so that they swing or work almost independently,
not unlike a field-gun limbered up.

The pillars of the framework have numerous holes, so that the plough can
be raised or lowered, that the share may dig deep or shallow. Then there
is the "cock-pin," the "road-bat" (a crooked piece of wood), the
"sherve-wright" (so pronounced) - shelvewright (?) - the "rist," and
spindle, besides, of course, the usual coulter and share. When the oxen
arrive at the top of the field, and the first furrow is completed, they
stop, well knowing their duty, while the ploughman moves the iron rist,
and the spindle which keeps it in position, to the other side, and moves
the road-bat so as to push the coulter aside. These operations are done
in a minute, and correspond in some degree to turning the rudder of a
ship. The object is that the plough, which has been turning the earth
one way, shall now (as it is reversed to go downhill) continue to turn
it that way. If the change were not effected when the plough was swung
round, the furrow would be made opposite. Next he leans heavily on the
handles, still standing on the same spot; this lifts the plough, so that
it turns easily as if on a pivot.

Then the oxen "jack round" - that is, walk round - so as to face downhill,
the framework in front turning like the fore-wheels of a carriage. So
soon as they face downhill and the plough is turned, they commence work
and make the second furrow side by side with the first. The same
operation is repeated at the bottom, and thus the plough travels
straight up and down, always turning the furrow the same way, instead
of, as in the valleys, making a short circuit at each end, and throwing
the earth in opposite directions. The result is a perfectly level field,
which, though not designed for it, must suit the reaping-machine better
than the drain furrows and raised "lands" of the valley system.

It is somewhat curious that the steam plough, the most remarkable
application of machinery to agriculture, in this respect resembles the
village-made wheel plough. The plough drawn by steam power in like
manner turns the second furrow side by side into the first, always
throwing the earth the same way, and leaving the ground level. This is
one of its defects on heavy, wet land, as it does not drain the surface.
But upon the slopes of the Downs no drains or raised "lands" are needed,
and the wheel plough answers perfectly.

So perfectly, indeed, does it answer that no iron plough has yet been
invented that can beat it, and while the valleys and plains are now
almost wholly worked with factory-made ploughs, the South Downs are
cultivated with the ploughs made in the villages by the wheelwrights. A
wheelwright is generally regularly employed by two or three farms, which
keep him in constant work. There is not, perhaps, another home-made
implement of old English agriculture left in use; certainly, none at
once so curious and interesting, and, when drawn by oxen, so thoroughly

Under the September sun, flowers may still be found in sheltered places,
as at the side of furze, on the highest of the Downs. Wild thyme
continues to bloom - the shepherd's thyme - wild mignonette, blue
scabious, white dropwort, yellow bedstraw, and the large purple blooms
of greater knapweed. Here and there a blue field gentian is still in
flower; "eggs and bacon" grow beside the waggon tracks. Grasshoppers hop
among the short dry grass; bees and humble-bees are buzzing about, and
there are places quite bright with yellow hawkweeds.

The furze is everywhere full of finches, troops of them; and there are
many more swallows than were flying here a month since. No doubt they
are on their way southwards, and stay, as it were, on the edge of the
sea while yet the sun shines. As the evening falls the sheep come slowly
home to the fold. When the flock is penned some stand panting, and the
whole body at each pant moves to and fro lengthways; some press against
the flakes till the wood creaks; some paw the dry and crumbling ground
(arable), making a hollow in which to lie down.

Rooks are fond of the places where sheep have been folded, and perhaps
that is one of the causes why they so continually visit certain spots in
particular fields to the neglect of the rest.


The waves coming round the promontory before the west wind still give
the idea of a flowing stream, as they did in Homer's days. Here beneath
the cliff, standing where beach and sand meet, it is still; the wind
passes six hundred feet overhead. But yonder, every larger wave rolling
before the breeze breaks over the rocks; a white line of spray rushes
along them, gleaming in the sunshine; for a moment the dark rock-wall
disappears, till the spray sinks.

The sea seems higher than the spot where I stand, its surface on a
higher level - raised like a green mound - as if it could burst in and
occupy the space up to the foot of the cliff in a moment. It will not do
so, I know; but there is an infinite possibility about the sea; it may
do what it is not recorded to have done. It is not to be ordered, it may
overleap the bounds human observation has fixed for it. It has a potency
unfathomable. There is still something in it not quite grasped and
understood - something still to be discovered - a mystery.

So the white spray rushes along the low broken wall of rocks, the sun
gleams on the flying fragments of the wave, again it sinks and the
rhythmic motion holds the mind, as an invisible force holds back the
tide. A faith of expectancy, a sense that something may drift up from
the unknown, a large belief in the unseen resources of the endless space
out yonder, soothes the mind with dreamy hope.

The little rules and little experiences, all the petty ways of narrow
life, are shut off behind by the ponderous and impassable cliff; as if
we had dwelt in the dim light of a cave, but coming out at last to look
at the sun, a great stone had fallen and closed the entrance, so that
there was no return to the shadow. The impassable precipice shuts off
our former selves of yesterday, forcing us to look out over the sea
only, or up to the deeper heaven.

These breadths draw out the soul; we feel that we have wider thoughts
than we knew; the soul has been living, as it were, in a nutshell, all
unaware of its own power, and now suddenly finds freedom in the sun and
the sky. Straight, as if sawn down from turf to beach, the cliff shuts
off the human world, for the sea knows no time and no era; you cannot
tell what century it is from the face of the sea. A Roman trireme
suddenly rounding the white edge-line of chalk, borne on wind and oar
from the Isle of Wight towards the gray castle at Pevensey (already old
in olden days), would not seem strange. What wonder could surprise us
coming from the wonderful sea?

The little rills winding through the sand have made an islet of a
detached rock by the beach; limpets cover it, adhering like rivet-heads.
In the stillness here, under the roof of the wind so high above, the
sound of the sand draining itself is audible. From the cliff blocks of
chalk have fallen, leaving hollows as when a knot drops from a beam.
They lie crushed together at the base, and on the point of this jagged
ridge a wheatear perches.

There are ledges three hundred feet above, and from these now and then a
jackdaw glides out and returns again to his place, where, when still and
with folded wings, he is but a speck of black. A spire of chalk still
higher stands out from the wall, but the rains have got behind it and
will cut the crevice deeper and deeper into its foundation. Water, too,
has carried the soil from under the turf at the summit over the verge,
forming brown streaks.

Upon the beach lies a piece of timber, part of a wreck; the wood is torn
and the fibres rent where it was battered against the dull edge of the
rocks. The heat of the sun burns, thrown back by the dazzling chalk; the
river of ocean flows ceaselessly, casting the spray over the stones; the
unchanged sky is blue.

Let us go back and mount the steps at the Gap, and rest on the sward
there. I feel that I want the presence of grass. The sky is a softer
blue, and the sun genial now the eye and the mind alike are
relieved - the one of the strain of too great solitude (not the solitude
of the woods), the other of too brilliant and hard a contrast of
colours. Touch but the grass and the harmony returns; it is repose after

A vessel comes round the promontory; it is not a trireme of old Rome,
nor the "fair and stately galley" Count Arnaldus hailed with its seamen
singing the mystery of the sea. It is but a brig in ballast, high out of
the water, black of hull and dingy of sail: still it is a ship, and
there is always an interest about a ship. She is so near, running along
but just outside the reef, that the deck is visible. Up rises her stern
as the billows come fast and roll under; then her bow lifts, and
immediately she rolls, and, loosely swaying with the sea, drives along.

The slope of the billow now behind her is white with the bubbles of her
passage, rising, too, from her rudder. Steering athwart with a widening
angle from the land, she is laid to clear the distant point of
Dungeness. Next, a steamer glides forth, unseen till she passed the
cliff; and thus each vessel that comes from the westward has the charm
of the unexpected. Eastward there is many a sail working slowly into the
wind, and as they approach, talking in the language of flags with the
watch on the summit of the Head.

Once now and then the great _Orient_ pauses on her outward route to
Australia, slowing her engines: the immense length of her hull contains
every adjunct of modern life; science, skill, and civilisation are
there. She starts, and is lost sight of round the cliff, gone straight
away for the very ends of the world. The incident is forgotten, when one
morning, as you turn over the newspaper, there is the _Orient_ announced
to start again. It is like a tale of enchantment; it seems but yesterday
that the Head hid her from view; you have scarcely moved, attending to
the daily routine of life, and scarce recognise that time has passed at
all. In so few hours has the earth been encompassed.

The sea-gulls as they settle on the surface ride high out of the water,
like the mediæval caravals, with their sterns almost as tall as the
masts. Their unconcerned flight, with crooked wings unbent, as if it
were no matter to them whether they flew or floated, in its peculiar
jerking motion somewhat reminds one of the lapwing - the heron has it,
too, a little - as if aquatic or water-side birds had a common and
distinct action of the wing.

Sometimes a porpoise comes along, but just beyond the reef; looking down
on him from the verge of the cliff, his course can be watched. His dark
body, wet and oily, appears on the surface for two seconds; and then,
throwing up his tail like the fluke of an anchor, down he goes. Now look
forward, along the waves, some fifty yards or so, and he will come up,
the sunshine gleaming on the water as it runs off his back, to again
dive, and reappear after a similar interval. Even when the eye can no
longer distinguish the form, the spot where he rises is visible, from
the slight change in the surface.

The hill receding in hollows leaves a narrow plain between the foot of
the sward and the cliff; it is ploughed, and the teams come to the
footpath which follows the edge; and thus those who plough the sea and
those who plough the land look upon each other. The one sees the vessel
change her tack, the other notes the plough turning at the end of the
furrow. Bramble bushes project over the dangerous wall of chalk, and
grasses fill up the interstices, a hedge suspended in air; but be
careful not to reach too far for the blackberries.

The green sea is on the one hand, the yellow stubble on the other. The
porpoise dives along beneath, the sheep graze above. Green seaweed lines
the reef over which the white spray flies, blue lucerne dots the field.
The pebbles of the beach seen from the height mingle in a faint blue
tint, as if the distance ground them into coloured sand. Leaving the
footpath now, and crossing the stubble to "France," as the wide open
hollow in the down is called by the shepherds, it is no easy matter in
dry summer weather to climb the steep turf to the furze line above.

Dry grass is as slippery as if it were hair, and the sheep have fed it
too close for a grip of the hand. Under the furze (still far from the
summit) they have worn a path - a narrow ledge, cut by their cloven
feet - through the sward. It is time to rest; and already, looking back,
the sea has extended to an indefinite horizon. This climb of a few
hundred feet opens a view of so many miles more. But the ships lose
their individuality and human character; they are so far, so very far,
away, they do not take hold of the sympathies; they seem like
sketches - cunningly executed, but only sketches - on the immense canvas
of the ocean. There is something unreal about them.

On a calm day, when the surface is smooth as if the brimming ocean had
been straked - the rod passed across the top of the measure, thrusting
off the irregularities of wave; when the distant green from long
simmering under the sun becomes pale; when the sky, without cloud, but
with some slight haze in it, likewise loses its hue, and the two so
commingle in the pallor of heat that they cannot be separated - then the
still ships appear suspended in space. They are as much held from above
as upborne from beneath.

They are motionless, midway in space - whether it is sea or air is not to
be known. They neither float nor fly; they are suspended. There is no
force in the flat sail, the mast is lifeless, the hull without impetus.
For hours they linger, changeless as the constellations, still, silent,
motionless, phantom vessels on a void sea.

Another climb up from the sheep path, and it is not far then to the
terrible edge of that tremendous cliff which rises straighter than a
ship's side out of the sea, six hundred feet above the detached rock
below, where the limpets cling like rivet heads, and the sand rills run
around it. But it is not possible to look down to it - the glance of
necessity falls outwards, as a raindrop from the eaves is deflected by
the wind, because it _is_ the edge where the mould crumbles; the
rootlets of the grass are exposed; the chalk is about to break away in

You cannot lean over as over a parapet, lest such a flake should detach
itself - lest a mere trifle should begin to fall, awakening a dread and
dormant inclination to slide and finally plunge like it. Stand back; the
sea there goes out and out, to the left and to the right, and how far is
it to the blue overhead? The eye must stay here a long period, and drink
in these distances, before it can adjust the measure, and know exactly
what it sees.

The vastness conceals itself, giving us no landmark or milestone. The
fleck of cloud yonder, does it part it in two, or is it but a third of
the way? The world is an immense cauldron, the ocean fills it, and we
are merely on the rim - this narrow land is but a ribbon to the
limitlessness yonder. The wind rushes out upon it with wild joy;
springing from the edge of the earth, it leaps out over the ocean. Let
us go back a few steps and recline on the warm dry turf.

It is pleasant to look back upon the green slope and the hollows and
narrow ridges, with sheep and stubble and some low hedges, and oxen, and
that old, old sloth - the plough - creeping in his path. The sun is bright
on the stubble and the corners of furze; there are bees humming yonder,
no doubt, and flowers, and hares crouching - the dew dried from around
them long since, and waiting for it to fall again; partridges, too,
corn-ricks, and the roof of a farmhouse by them. Lit with sunlight are
the fields, warm autumn garnering all that is dear to the heart of man,
blue heaven above - how sweet the wind comes from these! - the sweeter for
the knowledge of the profound abyss behind.

Here, reclining on the grass - the verge of the cliff rising a little,
shuts out the actual sea - the glance goes forth into the hollow
unsupported. It is sweeter towards the corn-ricks, and yet the mind will
not be satisfied, but ever turns to the unknown. The edge and the abyss
recall us; the boundless plain, for it appears solid as the waves are
levelled by distance, demands the gaze. But with use it becomes easier,
and the eye labours less. There is a promontory standing out from the
main wall, whence you can see the side of the cliff, getting a flank
view, as from a tower.

The jackdaws occasionally floating out from the ledge are as mere specks
from above, as they were from below. The reef running out from the
beach, though now covered by the tide, is visible as you look down on it
through the water; the seaweed, which lay matted and half dry on the
rocks, is now under the wave. Boats have come round, and are beached;
how helplessly little they seem beneath the cliff by the sea!

On returning homewards towards Eastbourne stay awhile by the tumulus on
the slope. There are others hidden among the furze; butterflies flutter
over them, and the bees hum round by day; by night the nighthawk passes,
coming up from the fields and even skirting the sheds and houses below.
The rains beat on them, and the storm drives the dead leaves over their
low green domes; the waves boom on the shore far down.

How many times has the morning star shone yonder in the East? All the
mystery of the sun and of the stars centres around these lowly mounds.

But the glory of these glorious Downs is the breeze. The air in the
valleys immediately beneath them is pure and pleasant; but the least
climb, even a hundred feet, puts you on a plane with the atmosphere
itself, uninterrupted by so much as the tree-tops. It is air without
admixture. If it comes from the south, the waves refine it; if inland,
the wheat and flowers and grass distil it. The great headland and the
whole rib of the promontory is wind-swept and washed with air; the
billows of the atmosphere roll over it.

The sun searches out every crevice amongst the grass, nor is there the
smallest fragment of surface which is not sweetened by air and light.
Underneath, the chalk itself is pure, and the turf thus washed by wind
and rain, sun-dried and dew-scented, is a couch prepared with thyme to
rest on. Discover some excuse to be up there always, to search for stray
mushrooms - they will be stray, for the crop is gathered extremely early
in the morning - or to make a list of flowers and grasses; to do
anything, and, if not, go always without any pretext. Lands of gold have
been found, and lands of spices and precious merchandise; but this is
the land of health.

There is the sea below to bathe in, the air of the sky up hither to
breathe, the sun to infuse the invisible magnetism of his beams. These
are the three potent medicines of nature, and they are medicines that by
degrees strengthen not only the body but the unquiet mind. It is not
necessary to always look out over the sea. By strolling along the slopes
of the ridge a little way inland there is another scene where hills roll
on after hills till the last and largest hides those that succeed behind

Vast cloud-shadows darken one, and lift their veil from another; like
the sea, their tint varies with the hue of the sky over them. Deep
narrow valleys - lanes in the hills - draw the footsteps downwards into
their solitude, but there is always the delicious air, turn whither you
will, and there is always the grass, the touch of which refreshes.
Though not in sight, it is pleasant to know that the sea is close at
hand, and that you have only to mount to the ridge to view it. At sunset
the curves of the shore westward are filled with a luminous mist.

Or if it should be calm, and you should like to look at the massive
headland from the level of the sea, row out a mile from the beach.
Eastwards a bank of red vapour shuts in the sea, the wavelets - no larger
than those raised by the oar - on that side are purple as if wine had
been spilt upon them, but westwards the ripples shimmer with palest

The sun sinks behind the summit of the Downs, and slender streaks of
purple are drawn along above them. A shadow comes forth from the cliff;
a duskiness dwells on the water; something tempts the eye upwards, and
near the zenith there is a star.

Edinburgh & London

[Transcriber's note: The inconsistent hyphenation of the original has
been retained in this etext.]

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