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Oh! friendly to the best pursuits of man,
THE stranger who would form a correct opinion of the English character must not confine his observations to the metropolis. He must go forth into the country; he must sojourn in villages and hamlets; he must visit castles, villas, farm-houses, cottages; he must wander through parks and gardens; along hedges and green lanes; he must loiter about country churches; attend wakes and fairs, and other rural festivals; and cope with the people in all their conditions, and all their habits and humours.
In some countries the large cities absorb the wealth and fashion of the nation; they are the only fixed abodes of elegant and intelligent society, and the country is inhabited almost entirely
by boorish peasantry. In England, on the contrary, the metropolis is a mere gathering place, or general rendezvous, of the polite classes, where they devote a small portion of the year to a hurry of gaiety and dissipation, and having indulged this carnival, return again to the apparently more congenial habits of rural life. The various orders of society are therefore diffused over the whole service of the kingdom, and the most retired neighbourhoods afford specimens of the different ranks.
The English, in fact, are strongly gifted with the rural feeling. They possess a quick sensibility to the beauties of nature, and a keen relish for the pleasures and employments of the country. This passion seems inherent in them. Even the inhabitants of cities, born and brought up among brick walls and bustling streets, enter with facility into rural habits, and evince a turn for rural occupation. The merchant has his snug retreat in the vicinity of the metropolis, where he often displays as much pride and zeal in the cultivation of his flower-garden, and the maturing of his fruits, as he does in the conduct of his business, and the success of his commercial enterprises. Even those less fortunate individuals, who are doomed to pass their lives in the midst of din and traffic, contrive to have something that shall remind them of the green aspect
of nature. In the most dark and dingy quarters of the city, the drawing-room window resembles frequently a bank of flowers; every spot capable of vegetation has its grass-plot and flower-bed; and every square its mimic park, laid out with picturesque taste, and gleaming with refreshing verdure.
Those who see the Englishman only in town, are apt to form an unfavourable opinion of his social character. He is either absorbed in business, or distracted by the thousand engagements that dissipate time, thought, and feeling, in this huge metropolis. He has, therefore, too commonly a look of hurry and abstraction. Whereever he happens to be, he is on the point of going somewhere else: at the moment he is talking on one subject, his mind is wandering to another; and while paying a friendly visit, he is calculating how he shall economise time so as to pay the other visits allotted to the morning. An immense metropolis like London is calculated to make men selfish and uninteresting. In their casual and transient meetings, they can but deal briefly in common-places. They present but the cold superficies of character-its rich and genial qualities have no time to be warmed into a flow.
It is in the country that the Englishman gives scope to his natural feelings. He breaks loose gladly from the cold formalities and negative civil