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Dorsetshire
by [?]

I am travelling just now, and am this week at Dorchester, in the company of my oldest and best friend. We like the same things; and I can be silent if I will, while I can also say anything, however whimsical, that comes into my mind; there are few things better than that in the world, and I count the precious hours very gratefully; appono lucro.

Dorsetshire gives me the feeling of being a very old country. The big downs seem like the bases of great rocky hills which have through long ages been smoothed and worn away, softened and mellowed, the rocks, grain by grain, carried downwards into the flat alluvial meadowlands beneath. In these rich pastures, all intersected with clear streams, runnels and water-courses, full at this season of rich water-plants, the cattle graze peacefully. The downs have been ploughed and sown up to the sky-line. Then there are fine tracts of heather and pines in places. And then, too, there is a sense of old humanity, of ancient wars about the land. There are great camps and earthworks everywhere, with ramparts and ditches, both British and Roman. The wolds from which the sea is visible are thickly covered with barrows, each holding the mouldering bones of some forgotten chieftain, laid to rest, how many centuries ago, with the rude mourning of a savage clan. I stood on one of the highest of these the other day, on a great gorse-clad headland, and sent my spirit out in quest of the old warrior that lay below–“Audisne haec, Amphiaraee, sub terram condite?” But there was no answer from the air; though in my sleep one night I saw a wild, red-bearded man, in a coat of skins, with rude gaiters, and a hat of foxes’ fur on his head; he carried a long staff in his hand, pointed with iron, and looked mutely and sorrowfully upon me. Who knows if it was he?

And then of later date are many ruinous strongholds, with Cyclopean walls, like the huge shattered bulk of Corfe, upon its green hill, between the shoulders of great downs. There are broken abbeys, pinnacled church-towers in village after village. And then, too, in hamlet after hamlet, rise quaint stone manors, high-gabled, many-mullioned, in the midst of barns and byres. One of the sweetest places I have seen is Cerne Abbas. The road to it winds gently up among steep downs, a full stream gliding through flat pastures at the bottom. The hamlet has a forgotten, wistful air; there are many houses in ruins. Close to the street rises the church-tower, of rich and beautiful design, with gurgoyles and pinnacles, cut out of a soft orange stone and delicately weathered. At the end of the village stands a big farm-house, built out of the abbey ruins, with a fine oriel in one of the granaries. In a little wilderness of trees, the ground covered with primroses, stands the exquisite old gatehouse with mullioned windows. I have had for years a poor little engraving of the place, and it seemed to greet me like an old friend. Then, in the pasture above, you can see the old terraces and mounds of the monastic garden, where the busy Benedictines worked day by day; further still, on the side of the down itself, is cut a very strange and ancient monument. It is the rude and barbarous figure of a naked man, sixty yards long, as though moving northwards, and brandishing a huge knotted club. It is carved deep into the turf, and is overgrown with rough grass. No one can even guess at the antiquity of the figure, but it is probably not less than three thousand years old. Some say that it records the death of a monstrous giant of the valley. The good monks Christianised it, and named it Augustine. But it seems to be certainly one of the frightful figures of which Caesar speaks, on which captives were bound with twisted osiers, and burnt to death for a Druidical sacrifice. The thing is grotesque, vile, horrible; the very stones of the place seemed soaked with terror, cruelty and death. Even recently foul and barbarous traditions were practised there, it is said, by villagers, who were Christian only in name. Yet it lay peacefully enough to-day, the shadows of the clouds racing over it, the wind rustling in the grass, with nothing to break the silence but the twitter of birds, the bleat of sheep on the down, and the crying of cocks in the straw-thatched village below.