Wonderful Britain. Its Highways Byways & Historic Places
The British have always been too ready to believe that foreign lands are more interesting than their own. "'This distance lends enchantment to the view." In all things concerning his native land, the Briton-or shall we say the South Briton? - has ever been the most modest appraiser: willing to listen to alien persons extolling the beauties and marvels of their own countries; while all the time England, together with Scotland, Wales and the adjacent islands, which (brushing aside all political and ethnographic niceties) we may call for our present purpose Britain, is really the most beautiful and the most interesting country in the world.
It is true that Britain does not possess such marvels of the remote past as bestrew the sands of Egypt, nor such treasures of ancient architecture as still survive in Greece and Italy; nor is it so favoured of the sun. But its own history, if less remote, is not less fascinating than that of Athens or Rome; and it is a little land that holds an empire immensely vaster than any that has been.
A distinguished and observant American, visiting England for the first time not long ago, expressed his astonishment at the overflowing loveliness of that green and pleasant land, at the inexhaustible riches of its historical buildings, its castles, cathedrals, abbeys, its princely mansions. He had been adequately informed about Scotland's beauty and its historic places; but this England so greatly surpassed his preconceived notions, so far outshone the Continental lands he had visited in its romantic places and its varied beauty, that he accused Englishmen of being either negligent or ignorant of the treasure which they owned.
'Why don't you tell the world about it?' he asked. The answer is that Englishmen have been so busy 'telling the world' about Italy and France and Spain and so many other countries, or listening to the propagandists belauding the specious charms of the Riviera, that they have overlooked their native land. If their brother Scots had ever lowered their enthusiasm for Scotia's far-famed allurements the case had been worse; but fortunately many have discovered something of England's charms on their way to Scotland.
Of course we ought to tell the world about the wonder of the British Isles. In telling the world we shall be doing something still more desirable: we shall be telling ourselves. That is the aim of WONDERFUL BRITAIN.
Ruskin gave as a reason for not visiting America that it had no old and ruined castles. America is a land of wonders and New York is surely a wonder city; but that emotional reaction which we experience only when in contact with human achievement-or perhaps the broken dreams-of ages past, is reserved, so far as the United States is concerned, for the visitor of, say, the year 2428. Britain abounds in it: there is no lack of old and ruined castles in these islands. It is the wonder and romance of them, of our glorious old cathedrals and churches, of all historic things, that we illustrate and describe in this work.
Though we cannot show anywhere in the British Isles so moving a scene of vanished splendour as the Forum of Rome, and have nothing so superbly immortal in its ruin as the Acropolis at Athens, yet have we a rich abundance of the historic and romantic with which every native should endeavour to make first-hand acquaintance. In recent years great progress has been made in tracing the ancient earthworks which prehistoric Britons formed; at Caerleon and elsewhere the England that was a Roman province is being discovered. The vestiges of the Saxon and the Dane, the splendid legacy of the Norman builders, our lovely Gothic cathedrals, the peculiarly British palaces and dwellings created by the Tudor genius, the prim elegancies of theGeorgian age; in short, the history of the British Isles as that relates to existing sites and scenes, from the days of the Druids to the days of the Great War, is the alluring and engrossing theme of these pictorial volumes.
There was a time, and not so long ago, when the exploration of the historic highways and byways of our own land was the privilege of the few. Fifty years ago a journey from London to Edinburgh must have seemed a more considerable undertaking than a journey to Rome appears to-day. But the popularising of travel, first by the extension of railways, then by the invention of the bicycle, and finally by the democratising of the motor car, has so opened up the byways of the British Isles that there is no longer any corner of the country that can be called 'out-of the-way.' The motor car has been criticised as a mere instrument of speed, and many motorists have no better idea than to rush along the high-roads 'all out.' But the craze for speed does not endure, and after its exhilaration the motorist's chief desire is to have an objective when he sets forth on the road: somewhere to go and something to see. He will find in the pages of WONDERFUL BRITAIN pictures and descriptions of as many historic and beautiful sights along the highways and byways of our islands as will take him years to visit. The cyclist and the tramper are relatively in similar -case; but, entirely apart from this practical use of the work, all who delight in reading about places that are noted for history and romance -and who does not?-will find in these volumes abundant matter for their entertainment and instruction.
Our chapters follow no stiff order; they are printed in no sequence of time or subject. In this way a pleasing variety of interest is attained; but within the pages of WONDERFUL BRITAIN is enough to provide the student with an outline of British history, and for those readers who especially desire to increase their knowledge of our romantic past, a chronology is given at the end of the work wherein all the chapters are related to their respective periods of history, and if re-read in that sequence they will form a delightful course of study in Britain's story.
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