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My Winter Garden
by [?]

For there were times, full many a year ago, when my brains were full of bison and grizzly bear, mustang and big-horn, Blackfoot and Pawnee, and hopes of wild adventure in the Far West, which I shall never see; for ere I was three-and-twenty, I discovered, plainly enough, that my lot was to stay at home and earn my bread in a very quiet way; that England was to be henceforth my prison or my palace, as I should choose to make it: and I have made it, by Heaven’s help, the latter.

I will confess to you, though, that in those first heats of youth, this little England–or rather, this little patch of moor in which I have struck roots as firm as the wild fir-trees do–looked at moments rather like a prison than a palace; that my foolish young heart would sigh, ‘Oh! that I had wings’–not as a dove, to fly home to its nest and croodle there–but as an eagle, to swoop away over land and sea, in a rampant and self-glorifying fashion, on which I now look back as altogether unwholesome and undesirable. But the thirst for adventure and excitement was strong in me, as perhaps it ought to be in all at twenty-one. Others went out to see the glorious new worlds of the West, the glorious old worlds of the East–why should not I? Others rambled over Alps and Apennines, Italian picture-galleries and palaces, filling their minds with fair memories–why should not I? Others discovered new wonders in botany and zoology–why should not I? Others too, like you, fulfilled to the utmost that strange lust after the burra shikar, which even now makes my pulse throb as often as I see the stags’ heads in our friend A—‘s hall: why should not I? It is not learnt in a day, the golden lesson of the Old Collect, to ‘love the thing which is commanded, and desire that which is promised.’ Not in a day: but in fifteen years one can spell out a little of its worth; and when one finds one’s self on the wrong side of forty, and the first grey hairs begin to show on the temples, and one can no longer jump as high as one’s third button–scarcely, alas! to any button at all; and what with innumerable sprains, bruises, soakings, and chillings, one’s lower limbs feel in a cold thaw much like an old post-horse’s, why, one makes a virtue of necessity: and if one still lusts after sights, takes the nearest, and looks for wonders, not in the Himalayas or Lake Ngami, but in the turf on the lawn and the brook in the park; and with good Alphonse Karr enjoys the macro-microcosm in one ‘Tour autour de mon jardin.’

For there it is, friend, the whole infinite miracle of nature in every tuft of grass, if we have only eyes to see it, and can disabuse our minds of that tyrannous phantom of size. Only recollect that great and small are but relative terms; that in truth nothing is great or small, save in proportion to the quantity of creative thought which has been exercised in making it; that the fly who basks upon one of the trilithons of Stonehenge, is in truth infinitely greater than all Stonehenge together, though he may measure the tenth of an inch, and the stone on which he sits five-and-twenty feet. You differ from me? Be it so. Even if you prove me wrong I will believe myself in the right: I cannot afford to do otherwise. If you rob me of my faith in ‘minute philosophy,’ you rob me of a continual source of content, surprise, delight.

So go your way and I mine, each working with all his might, and playing with all his might, in his own place and way. Remember only, that though I never can come round to your sphere, you must some day come round to me, when wounds, or weariness, or merely, as I hope, a healthy old age, shall shut you out for once and for all from burra shikar, whether human or quadruped.–For you surely will not take to politics in your old age? You will not surely live to solicit (as many a fine fellow, alas! did but last year) the votes, not even of the people, but merely of the snobocracy, on the ground of your having neither policy nor principles, nor even opinions, upon any matter in heaven or earth?–Then in that day will you be forced, my friend, to do what I have done this many a year; to refrain your soul, and keep it low. You will see more and more the depth of human ignorance, the vanity of human endeavours. You will feel more and more that the world is going God’s way, and not yours, or mine, or any man’s; and that if you have been allowed to do good work on earth, that work is probably as different from what you fancy it as the tree is from the seed whence it springs. You will grow content, therefore, not to see the real fruit of your labours; because if you saw it you would probably be frightened at it, and what is very good in the eyes of God would not be very good in yours; content, also, to receive your discharge, and work and fight no more, sure that God is working and fighting, whether you are in hospital or in the field. And with this growing sense of the pettiness of human struggles will grow on you a respect for simple labours, a thankfulness for simple pleasures, a sympathy with simple people, and possibly, my trusty friend, with me and my little tours about that moorland which I call my winter-garden, and which is to me as full of glory and of instruction as the Himalaya or the Punjab are to you, and in which I contrive to find as much health and amusement as I have time for–and who ought to have more?