The other evening we went with Titania to a ramshackle country hotel which calls itself The Mansion House, looking forward to a fine robust meal. It was a transparent, sunny, cool evening, and when we saw on the bill of fare half broiled chicken, we innocently supposed that the word half was an adjective modifying the compound noun, broiled-chicken. Instead, to our sorrow and disappointment, it proved to be an adverb modifying broiled (we hope we parse the matter correctly). At any rate, the wretched fowl was blue and pallid, a little smoked on the exterior, raw and sinewy within, and an affront to the whole profession of innkeeping. Whereupon, in the days that followed, looking back at our fine mood of expectancy as we entered that hostelry, and its pitiable collapse when the miserable travesty of victuals was laid before us, we fell to thinking about some of the inns we had known of old time where we had feasted not without good heart.
To speak merely by sudden memory, for instance, there was the fine old hotel in Burlington, Vermont–is it called the Van Ness House?–where we remember a line of cane-bottomed chairs on a long shady veranda, where one could look out and see the town simmering in that waft of hot and dazzling sunshine that pours across Lake Champlain in the late afternoon: and The Black Lion, Lavenham, Suffolk; where (unless we confuse it with a pub in Bury St. Edmunds where we had lunch), there was, in the hallway, a very fine old engraving called “Pirates Decoying a Merchantman,” in which one pirate, dressed in woman’s clothes, stood up above the bulwarks waving for assistance, while the cutlassed ruffians crouched below ready to do their bloody work when the other ship came near enough. Nor have we forgotten The Saracen’s Head, at Ware, whence we went exploring down the little river Lea on Izaak Walton’s trail; nor The Swan at Bibury in Gloucestershire, hard by that clear green water the Colne; nor another Swan at Tetsworth in Oxfordshire, which one reaches after bicycling over the beechy slope of the Chilterns, and where, in the narrow taproom, occurred the fabled encounter between a Texas Rhodes Scholar logged with port wine and seven Oxfordshire yokels who made merry over his power of carrying the red blood of the grape.
Our friend C.F.B., while we were meditating these golden matters, wrote to us that he is going on a walking or bicycling trip in England next summer, and asks for suggestions. We advise him to get a copy of Muirhead’s “England” (the best general guidebook we have seen) and look up his favourite authors in the index. That will refer him to the places associated with them, and he can have rare sport in hunting them out. There is no way of pilgrimage so pleasant as to follow the spoor of a well-loved writer. Referring to our black note-book, in which we keep memoranda of a modest pilgrimage we once made to places mentioned by two of our heroes, viz., Boswell and R.L.S., we think that if we were in C.F.B.’s shoes, one of the regions we would be most anxious to revisit would be Dove Dale, in Derbyshire. This exquisite little valley is reached from Ashbourne, where we commend the Green Man Inn (visited more than once by Doctor Johnson and Boswell). This neighbourhood also has memories of George Eliot, and of Izaak Walton, who used to go fishing in the little river Dove; his fishing house is still there. Unfortunately, when we were in those parts we did not have sense enough to see the Manyfold, a curious stream (a tributary of the Dove) which by its habit of running underground caused Johnson and Boswell to argue about miracles.
Muirhead’s book will give C.F.B. sound counsel about the inns of that district, which are many and good. The whole region of the Derbyshire Peak is rarely visited by the foreign tourist. Of it, Doctor Johnson, with his sturdy prejudice, said: “He who has seen Dove Dale has no need to visit the Highlands.” The metropolis of this moorland is Buxton: unhappily we did not make a note of the inn we visited in that town; but we have a clear recollection of claret, candlelight, and reading “Weir of Hermiston” in bed; also a bathroom with hot water, not too common in the cheap hostelries we frequented.