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Yes ! beautiful forest ! haunt of retired study and holy contemplation, it was thou who first taught me there were things even in this world more to be coveted than the gifts of fortune or the fascinations
I hail thee, therefore, with joy ! hail this reminiscence of my first acquaintance with thee, which this epoch of my life now presents !
To quit this flight, and go on with my narration in plain prose, I was set down by the coach at the Royal Oak, a favourite sign of mine, notwithstanding the profligacy of the prince who endowed it with that title.
Am I right or wrong in thinking that, in a journey like mine, which may be truly called “sentimental," pleasure, or its reverse, may in some sort be kindled by the associations thrown about the signs of the houses where we stop ? Thus, the Royal Oak, for its aristocratic character; the White Hart, for its elegance; the Talbot, for the notions it gives of courage and fidelity; the Rose and Crown, for its historical interests; the Hare and Hounds, for its sporting recollections; the Green Man, or Robin Hood, for the romance of archery: all these for a moment inspire you—at least they inspire me—with a pleasing dream. While the Bull's Head, the Bear, the Pack Horse, the Windmill, the Punch Bowl, or the Rummer, involve one's thoughts in nothing but coarseness. I have carried this feeling so far as to expect to see the landlords, and even the waiters and chambermaids, in some measure, by their appearance and
manners, accord with their signs. In this I have been disappointed, so venture not to recommend it.
Yet in this instance my system told, for the landlord of the Royal Oak was highly aristocratic, and, in compliment to his sign, I found more than one copy of Boscobel or the escape of Charles II. on the tables of the house. He talked, too, with the affection and respect he deserved, of George the Third, whom he honoured for many virtues, but particularly for his love of hunting, and encouraging Ascot races. He therefore had his picture in every room, together with that of Lord Hinchingbroke, the then Master of the Buckhounds, and sundry of the best race-horses, some alone and quiet, some running with others. In short, it was evident that, if not a jockey, he had all the esprit de corps of the stable about him. In fact, I found I was in the middle of the King's hunt, which, with the neighbourhood of Ascot, infused into the atmosphere an air of politeness and loyalty greater than ever I had yet met with.
This, and the good treatment of the host, who did not disdain coach passengers, whatever he might do by pedestrians and pedlars, put me at ease, and the delightful pastoral appearance of the surrounding country, set off by the beauty of the season, made me resolve to dedicate a few days to the study of what
“ At once the Muses' and the monarch's seats.”
Could I think of Pope, and be in the neighbourhood of his cradle at Binfield, where
He lisped in numbers, for the numbers came,”
and not take a walk to see it before dinner? My landlord, who was the cicerone of this classical region, and a great admirer of Pope, whenever he had an interval of leisure from his duties in the cellarage or the stable to read him, recommended it, and shewed me the road, in his way to “ Squire Neville's," as he called him, of Billingbere, in whose service he had been bred, as he said, from a boy, and who had helped his promotion to be landlord of the Royal Oak.
On the road, which passed through the most beautiful woodland scenery I had ever beheld, we had a conversation that might be called refined, for a brewer of ale and vendor of mutton chops.
"Quite a genius, that Mr. Pope,” observed the landlord, as we set out.
“ Quite,” echoed I.
“ Yet they say he was a queer man to look at twisted a hundred different ways; though this, to be sure, has nothing to do with larning. 'Tis the headpiece as does all.”
“ Quite right again,” said I.
“ Now I," continued the landlord, whose name was Gayford, “may say without vanity, I hope, that I am a far properer man to look at than Mr. Pope was, for I am six feet high, and can lift a sack of malt; and yet if I was to scratch my head from year's end to year's end, as he seems by his portrait to be always a-doing, I could never make one of them verses, which, as I have heard tell, he could make when he was quite a little boy. La ! Sir, what a pretty thing all that is about Loddon being once a nymph, but turned into a
river. I know it's all what the poets call an invention ; for I have gone over Loddon bridge a thousand times, and such a thought never came into my head, till Mr. Pope put it there."
“ Do you think," said I, “then, that scratching the head has any thing to do with poetry ? "
“Yes, sure, and a great deal too; and that's the reason why Mr. Pope's picture is always drawn as if he was scratching his, under his velvet cap."
I laughed outright.
“ However," added Mr. Gayford, “ that's all as God pleases. One is made for one thing, and one for another; one's for books, tother for plough: what Mr. Pope had better than me in mind, I have better than him in body; and so it is all providence, and makes us all come round again.” I was quite charmed with this sermon of my
friend of the Royal Oak, and told him so.
Why its nothing," said he, “ but common sense after all. For if I was to fret myself because I was not a poet, or a master of the buckhounds, like Lord Hinching broke, instead of keeping comfortable at the Royal Oak, I might go and be laughed at all day ; that's what I should deserve for my pains, and all I should get for my fretting. God never intended all of us to be lords.”
*" She said, and melting as in tears she lay,
In a soft silver stream dissolved away.
“ Or masters of the buckhounds," said I, which seemed to come quite home to mine host's comprehension.
I now began to be more and more pleased with him, and complimented him on his contented disposition.
Why you see,” observed he, “ content is neither here nor there particularly, but every where if we pleased—that's my maxim. To be sure it is more here, than here," (laying his hand first upon his stomach, and then upon his head). “If the belly has enough, and I wear a good coat (here he drew a coat of substantial second cloth close round him)-if I have no need of doctor's stuff, pay every man his own, and the tap of the Royal Oak keeps going, why should I envy any man? I say, if the King (God bless him for a gentleman, every inch of him, who made me a yeoman pricker, and loves a good hunt, as well as Squire Neville, of Billingbere)—if he does not sleep better, though he lies softer than I do, why should I complain that I am not a king ?”
“ Why indeed ?" said I ;“ but pray, what is a yeoman pricker?"
“ Why, don't you know that? It is a sign you are not of the forest. Yet if I were to tell you, perhaps you would not understand it.”
Very likely; but what is it?"
Why, it is one that helps in the hunt, and the forest, and is about his Majesty; and there is a good deal to do in the riding way ; but then that is a pleasure, particularly when we have a good horse