Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, October, 1877, Vol. XX. No. 118 by Various


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Page 2


Llangollen Vale has a beauty of its own, the family likeness of which to
that of all valleys in the hearts of mountains makes it none the less
welcome. The picturesqueness of thatched houses and a dilapidation of
masonry which only age makes beautiful marks the difference between this
valley and the Alpine ones with their trim, clean toy houses, or the
Transatlantic ones with their square, solid, black log huts and huge
well-sweeps; otherwise the fresh greenery, the purple mountain-shadows, the
subdued sounds, no one knows whence, the sense of peace and solitude, are
akin to every other beautiful valley-scene of mingled wildness and
cultivation. A traveller can hardly help making comparisons, yet much
escapes him of the peculiar charm that hangs round every place, and is too
subtle to disclose itself to the eye of a mere passer. You must live at
least six months in one place before its true character unfolds: the broad
beauties you see at once, but it needs the microscope of habit to find out
the rarest charms. Therefore it is much easier to descant on the tangible,
striking beauty of Valle Crucis Abbey than on the aggregate loveliness of
Llangollen Vale; and perhaps it is this lack of familiarity that leads
novelists, poets and others to dwell so much more and with such detail on
buildings than on natural scenery. It may not be given them to understand
upon how much higher a plane of beauty stands a bed of ferns on a rocky
ledge, a clump of trees even on a flat meadow, and especially a tangled
forest-scene or a view of distant mountains in a sunset glow, or the
surface of water undotted by a sail, than the highest effect of man-made
beauty, be it even York Minster or the Parthenon. What man does has value
by reason of the meaning in it, and of course man cannot but fall short of
the perfection of his own meaning; whereas Nature is of herself perfection,
and perfection in which there is no effort. Valle Crucis is hardly a rival
of Fountains or Rivaulx. The Cistercians in the beginning of their
foundation were reformers, ascetic, and essentially agriculturists. Their
great leader, Bernard of Clairvaux, the advocate of silence and work, once
said, "Believe me, I have learnt more from trees than ever I learnt from
men." But decay came even into this community of farmer-monks, and the
praise and panegyric of the abbey, as handed down to us by a Welsh poet,
betray unconsciously things hardly to the credit of a monastic house, for
the abbot, "the pope of the glen," he tells us, gave entertainments "like
the leaves in summer," with "vocal and instrumental music," wine, ale and
curious dishes of fish and fowl, "like a carnival feast," and "a thousand
apples for dessert."



The river-scenery changes below Llangollen, and gives us first a glimpse of
a wooded, narrow valley, then of the unsightly accessories of the great
North Wales coalfield, after which it enters upon a typically English
phase--low undulating hills and moist, rich meadows divided by luxuriant
hedges and dotted with single spreading trees. The hedgerow timber of
Cheshire is beautiful, and to a great extent makes up for the want of
tracts of wooded land. This country is not, like the Midland counties and
the great Fen district, violently or exclusively agricultural, and these
hedges and trees, which are gratefully kept up for the sake of the shade
they afford to the cattle, show a very different temper among the farmers
from that utilitarianism which marks the men of Leicester shire, Lincoln,
Nottingham, Norfolk, or Rutland. There even great land-owners are often
obliged to humor their tenants, and keep the unwelcome hedges trimmed so as
not to interpose two feet of shade between them and the wheat-crop; and as
often as possible hedges are replaced by ugly stone walls or wooden fences.
It is only in their own grounds that landlords can afford to court
picturesqueness, and in this part of the country the American who is said
to have objected to hedges because they were unfit for seats whence to
admire the landscape, might safely sit down anywhere; only, as matters are
seldom perfectly arranged, there is very little to admire but a flat
expanse of wheat, barley and grass. This part of Cheshire has hardly more
diversity in its river-scenery, but the mere presence of trees and green
arbors makes it a pleasant picture, while here and there, as at Overton
(this is Welsh, however, and belongs to Flintshire), a church-tower comes
in to complete the scene. Here the Dee winds about a good deal, and
receives its beautiful, dashing tributary, the Alyn, which runs through the
Vale of Gresford and waters the park of Trevallyn Old Hall, one of the
loveliest of old English homes. Its pointed gables and great clustering
stacks of chimneys, its mullioned and diamond-paned windows, its
finely-wooded park, all realize the stranger's ideal of the antique
manor-house. This neighborhood is studded with country-houses in all styles
of architecture, from the characteristic national to the uncomfortable and
cold foreign type. Houses that were meant to stand in ilex-groves under a
purple sky and a sun of bronze look forlorn and uninviting under the gray
sky of England and amid its trees leafless for so many months in the year:
home associations seem impossible in a porticoed house suggestive of
outdoor living and the relegation of chambers to the use of a mere refuge
from the weather. For many of these places are no more than villas
enlarged, and might be set down with advantage to themselves in the
Regent's Park in London, the very acme of the commonplace. On the other
hand, all the traditional associations that go with an English hall
presuppose a national style of architecture. Even florid Tudor, even sturdy
"Queen Anne," can stand juxtaposition with groups of horses, dogs and
huntsmen; Christmas cheer and Christmas weather set them off all the
better; leafless trees are no drawback; the house looks warmer, coseyer,
more home-like, the worse the blast and rush without. A roaring fire is
natural to the huge hall fireplace, while in a mosaic-paved "ante-room" or
a frescoed "saloon" it looks foreign and out of place. Many an odd Welsh
and English house has unfortunately disappeared to make room for a cold,
unsuccessful monstrosity that reminds one of a mammoth railway-station or a
new hotel; and when Welsh names are tacked on to these absurd dwellings the
contrast is as painful as it is forcible. Such, for instance, is
Bryn-y-Pys, on the Dee--a house you might guess to belong to a Liverpool
merchant who had trusted to a common builder for a comfortable home.
Overton Cottage, on the other side, fills in with its walks and plantations
an abrupt bend of the river, and the view from the up-going road at its
back is very lovely, though the scene is purely pastoral. Overton
Churchyard is one of the "seven wonders" of North Wales: it has a very trim
and stately appearance, not that ragged, free if melancholy,
outspreadedness which distinguishes many country cemeteries, that
unpremeditated luxuriance of creepers and flowers, blossoming bushes and
grasses, that make up at least half of one's pleasant reminiscences of such
places. How much more interesting to find an old tomb or quaint "brass"
under the temple of a wild rosebush or in the firm clasp of an ivy-root
than to walk up to it and read the inscription newly scraped and cleaned by
the voluble attendant who volunteers to show you the place! The great elms
by Overton Church and the half-timbered and thatched houses crowding up to
its gates somewhat make up for the splendor of the coped wall and new
monuments in the churchyard. A scene wholly old is the Erbistock Ferry,
which one might mistake for a rope-ferry on the Mosel. The cottage looks
like the dilapidated lodge of an old monastery, and here, at least, is no
trimness. Two walls with a flight of steps in each enclose a grass terrace
between them, and trees and bushes straggle to the edge of the river,
hardly keeping clear of the swinging rope. Coracles are sometimes used for
ferrying--also punts. Bangor is a familiar name to students of church
history, and to those who are not, the startling tale of the massacre of
twelve hundred British monks by the Saxon and heathen king of Northumbria,
who conquered Chester and invaded Wales in the seventh century, is repeated
by the local guides. At present, Bangor is interesting to anglers and to
lovers of curiosities--to the former as a good salmon-ground, and to the
latter for the quaint verses, which, though trivial in themselves, borrow a
value from the date of their inscription and the "laws" to which they
refer. They are on the wall of the lower story of the bell-tower:

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