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by [?]

Distances are not so great in that country; the population occupies less space. Again, the land has been, longer occupied and is more thoroughly subdued; it is easier to get about the fields; life has flowed in the same channels for centuries. The English landscape is like a park, and is so thoroughly rural and mellow and bosky that the temptation to walk amid its scenes is ever present to one. In comparison, nature here is rude, raw, and forbidding; has not that maternal and beneficent look, is less mindful of man, runs to briers and weeds or to naked sterility.

Then as a people the English are a private, domestic, homely folk: they dislike publicity, dislike the highway, dislike noise, and love to feel the grass under their feet. They have a genius for lanes and footpaths; one might almost say they invented them. The charm of them is in their books; their rural poetry is modeled upon them. How much of Wordsworth’s poetry is the poetry of pedestrianism! A footpath is sacred in England; the king himself cannot close one; the courts recognize them as something quite as important and inviolable as the highway.

A footpath is of slow growth, and it is a wild, shy thing that is easily scared away. The plow must respect it, and the fence or hedge make way for it. It requires a settled state of things, unchanging habits among the people, and long tenure of the land; the rill of life that finds its way there must have a perennial source, and flow there tomorrow and the next day and the next century.

When I was a youth and went to school with my brothers, we had a footpath a mile long. On going from home after leaving the highway there was a descent through a meadow, then through a large maple and beech wood, then through a long stretch of rather barren pasture land which brought us to the creek in the valley, which we crossed on a slab or a couple of rails from the near fence; then more meadow land with a neglected orchard, and then the little gray schoolhouse itself toeing the highway. In winter our course was a hard, beaten path in the snow visible from afar, and in summer a well-defined trail. In the woods it wore the roots of the trees. It steered for the gaps or low places in the fences, and avoided the bogs and swamps in the meadow. I can recall yet the very look, the very physiognomy of a large birch-tree that stood beside it in the midst of the woods; it sometimes tripped me up with a large root it sent out like a foot. Neither do I forget the little spring run near by, where we frequently paused to drink, and to gather “crinkle-root” (DENTARIA) in the early summer; nor the dilapidated log fence that was the highway of the squirrels; nor the ledges to one side, whence in early spring the skunk and coon sallied forth and crossed our path; nor the gray, scabby rocks in the pasture; nor the solitary tree, nor the old weather-worn stump; no, nor the creek in which I plunged one winter morning in attempting to leap its swollen current. But the path served only one generation of school-children; it faded out more than thirty years ago, and the feet that made it are widely scattered, while some of them have found the path that leads through the Valley of the Shadow. Almost the last words of one of these schoolboys, then a man grown, seemed as if he might have had this very path in mind, and thought himself again returning to his father’s house: “I must hurry,” he said; “I have a long way to go up a hill and through a dark wood, and it will soon be night.”