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Chapter I.: BROOKE AND ITS POLITICIANS. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 1.
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BROOKE AND ITS POLITICIANS.
There is not a village in England that I love so well as Brooke: but I was born and have always lived there, and this is probably the reason why I see beauty in it; for strangers do not appear struck with it.
There is one long, straggling street where the blacksmith, the publican, the grocer, and the haberdasher live; their houses being separated, some by gardens, others by cowsheds or pigsties. My father's house stands a little way out of the village, just a quarter of a mile from the “Withers' Arms,” the only public-house in the place. Our dwelling stands so far back from the road, and is just so much planted with trees and shrubs, as to be free from noise and dust; while it is not so retired as to appear ashamed of keeping company with the houses in the neighbourhood. The children playing in the road may see the ladies at work in the bow-window by peeping through the bars of the white gate; and if any little boy should venture in to pick up his ball or recover his kite, he may chance to meet the master looking after his fruit-trees, or to catch a glimpse of the mistress cutting her roses.
Our house is, however, only the second-best in the place, without reckoning Sir Henry Withers's fine old castle, which, besides being five miles off, is too grand to be brought into comparison with any neighbouring estate. Brooke Farm is a far larger and handsomer place than ours. The house, a solid old English mansion with many modern additions, which have been made as its owner, Mr. Malton, grew rich, is approached from the village by an avenue of fine chestnuts; but there are sundry other approaches which are much preferred by those who, like myself, frequent the fields and lanes of Brooke Farm. There is a green lane where wild anemones grow in profusion, and at the end of which, close by the back of the mansion, stand some tall elms, the habitation of a society of rooks. When I go to visit Mrs. Malton, I generally choose this road, and pay my respects to the rookery before doing the same to the lady.— Mr. Malton is by far the largest land-owner within a circuit of many miles, and has added to his property, year by year, till it has become as extensive as he can manage himself. Up to this point he believed himself justified in enlarging his farm, but not beyond; for he knows well that the personal superintendence of the proprietor is necessary to the due improvement of an estate of any kind, and especially of a farm.
At the west end of the village street stands the church, upon a rising ground planted with evergreens, while the modest parsonage retires behind it, with its little court in front, and its blooming pear-tree trained against the walls. Beyond, are a fine range of fields and some flourishing young plantations; but in my early days they were not to be seen. There was, instead, a wide common, skirted in some parts with very poor cottages. No trees, no gardens were seen around them. I remember how bleak and bare the situation of those dwellings used to appear. A pool of muddy water was before the doors of some, and a dunghill was heaped up against the wall of others. Each had a cowshed, such as it was, with its ragged thatch and its sides full of holes, through which the wind whistled. Each cottager possessed a cow which grazed on the common, and which, though lean from being only half-fed, was the best wealth of its master. As each villager had a right of common, every housekeeper possessed a cow; and often in my evening walk I met eight or nine of these miserable cattle coming home to be milked. Little John Todd, the blacksmith's son, used to drive in several in company with his father's. He took charge of Miss Black's the milliner, of Wickstead's the publican, and of Harper's the grocer. With all these cows, there was no great abundance of milk, butter, and cheese, in the place; for no more milk was yielded than was wanted for each family. There were tribes of children in most of the cottages; and the grocer had his shop-boy, the publican his stable-boy, and the milliner her apprentice, to feed; so that there was a demand for as much milk as the poor animals could supply. A donkey or two, and a few pigs and geese, were also to be seen on the common, grazing or drinking from the pools, or dabbling in them. There was a pretty pond of clear water near the pathway which led across the common; and it was overhung on one side by a clump of beeches which formed a pleasant shade in summer, and were a relief to the eye in winter when the ground was covered with snow. Behind this clump the common was no longer level, but swelled into heathy hillocks, bright with gorse and broom, and the variety of plants which usually flourish in company with them. The view of the church and parsonage from the highest of these hills was particularly pretty when the setting sun shone full on their windows and on the bench in the churchyard, where the old men used to go to enjoy its last beams. I have sat on that hill for many an hour, watching the children at their sports about the pond, or tending the cows; and have remained there with my father till no sound was heard but the dying hum from a distance, and nothing was to be seen of the village but the sparks from the blacksmith's forge.—My father agrees with me that Brooke is one of the prettiest villages in England.
The character of the place and of the people is, however, very much changed within my remembrance; —whether for the better or the worse, the reader will judge for himself when I have described the changes to which I refer. A few years ago, as I have said, the cottages on the common wore a comfortless appearance. The families they contained, some large, some small, were, however, supported in independence, and few complaints were heard, though the children went barefoot and half-naked, and had never thought of such a thing as learning to read. Blacksmiths are always sure of a living; and Mr. Todd was then neither better nor worse off than at present. the same may be said of Wickstead the publican. The grocer has got on in the world considerably; and Miss Black's window displays a much grander assortment of caps and ribbons than in former days. But as she has grown rich, some of her neighbours have grown poor; and parish relief is sought by several families who would have little thought of such a mode of subsistence ten years ago.
I well remember the day when my father announced to us a piece of news which nearly concerned the interests of our village. As we were sitting round the table after dinner, my mother remarked that she had seen Sir Henry Withers ride down the street in the morning, and thought he was going to call; but that just as he had reached the gate, he turned his horse's head another way.
“He came to speak to me on business,” said my father, “and seeing me a little way farther on the road, he chose to overtake me instead of turning in here. He left his respects for you, and was sorry he had no time afterwards to call.”
My mother was sorry too, for she wanted to give him some instructions about rearing a foreign plant which he thought was drooping.
“He will be here again in a day or two,” said my father. “If the news he brought has got wind, as I believe it has through his groom, he will scarcely be so well received as usual in the village.”
A piece of news being a rare and welcome thing among the inhabitants of Brooke, whether high or low, the whole family party looked eagerly to my father for an explanation. He went on:
“Sir Henry tells me that an act of Parliament is likely to be obtained for inclosing Brooke common.”
“O, our pretty common !” cried I. “So we shall see it all divided into patches, with ugly hedges and ditches between. I shall never have any pleasure in walking there again.”
“And we must give up playing hide and seek among the hillocks,” said one of the boys.
“And there will be no place for me to fly my kite,” exclaimed Frederick; “and Arthur must not swim his boat on the pond, I suppose.”
“What are the poor people to do with their cows?” added my mother.
“You too, my dear !” exclaimed my father, smiling. “I was going to tell the children that they must not set an example of discontent to their poor neighbours; and now, I am afraid, I must begin my lecture with you.”
“You will not need,” replied my mother. “I am well convinced that it is right that waste lands should be inclosed: but the first thought which occurred to me was the immediate distress which such a change would cause among the cottagers.”
“I am sorry for them,” said my father, “because they will be full of alarm, and may, by mismanagement, make that an evil which ought to be none. If they choose, they may be the better for this change. Whether they will choose it is the question.”
“That they will be the better in the end, I have no doubt,” replied my mother. “But how are they to do without pasture for their cows in the mean time?”
“An allotment of land will be given to each,” replied my father, “which may be made much more valuable than the right of common, of which people think so much.”
“But, mamma,” said I, “you spoke of the common as waste land, just as if it was of no use to anybody. Surely, if it feeds cows for the whole village, and geese besides, it is quite useful enough?”
“Not if it can be made more useful by cutlivation, Lucy,” said my father. “It is now but poor pasture for a score of cows and a few geese. If it can be made to produce abundant food for double the number of cattle, and some hundreds of human beings besides, we may well call its present condition waste, in comparison with that which will be.”
“But it will be very expensive work to bring it to this state,” argued I. “How much it will cost to make the fences and prepare the ground before anything will grow in it!”
“That is the affair of those who are going to lay out their capital upon it,” replied he. “You may trust them for having made their calculations that they will be repaid in time. If you should see that day, if you live to admire fine fields of corn and valuable plantations flourishing where nothing grows now but heath and broom, you will wonder that you could ever lament the change because it has cost you the loss of a pretty walk.”
I was ready to allow that my regret was selfish.
“As for you, children,” added my father, turning to the little boys, “it is natural that you should ask about your kite and your boat. I can tell you for your comfort that the pond is not to be touched, and that there will be plenty of room for some years to come for all your sports. The whole common will not be enclosed at once, and the level ground will be taken in first. So you may play at hide and seek among the hillocks till you grow too old for the game.”
As we went for our evening walk, we could perceive that there was an unusual stir in the village. Two or three old men, who were always to be seen about sunset sitting on the bench under the elm in front of the public-house, were smoking tbeir pipes very quietly; but more than the usual number of gossips was standing round them, and the politicians who took the lead in the discussion of the news were holding forth with more than common energy of speech and action.—On one side of the tree two men appeared engaged in an argument less vehement, and to which there were no listeners. One was Sergeant Rayne, who, having spent many years in foreign parts and lost an arm there, had come back, covered with glory, to spend his remaining days in his native village, where he was looked up to as a kind of oracle on account of his superior knowledge of the world. His companion was the grocer, who conceived himself to be little less of a man of the world than Sergeant Rayne, since he had paid three visits to London, and many more to the market town of M—.
I directed my father's attention to this pair of speakers, exclaiming,
“How I should like to know what they are saying! They look as earnest as their neighbours, though they are less noisy.”
“It is easy to see,” replied my father, “that there is speechifying going on on one side of the elm, and argument on the other. I am glad of it, if, as I suppose, they are discussing the inclosurebill; for I was afraid they were all of one mind, all opposed to it.”
As we passed Miss Black's, we saw her talking at the door with Mr. Gregson, the smart young haberdasher, who was the lady's man of the village. As it was a rare thing for her to condescend to gossip with her neighbours, except at the tea-table, we concluded that she too had heard the news, and that concern for the interests of her cow had overcome her usual dignity.
We were always sure of hearing the substance and result of every argument which took place within the parish of Brooke, in the space of twenty-four hours at farthest, from a reporter as faithful as he was minute.
Carey the barber, who shaved and dressed my father every morning, would as soon have thought of appearing unprovided with razor and soap as with a report of what passed under the elm the evening before. All that he heard there was told, whether my father listened or not, If left to talk without interruption, he was satisfied with the mere pleasure of talking. If encouraged by observation and reply, he was doubly pleased. He considered that it was his office to speak and my father's to hear, and was resolved that the duty should be thoroughly performed on his part at least. Happy would it be for society if every office were filled with equal zeal and industry!
“I hope, sir,” said he, the morning after the occurrences I have related,—“I hope, sir, you enjoyed your walk last evening? Charming evening, sir! I saw you pass as I was with my neighbours at the Arms. Charming evening, indeed!”
“Very pleasant; and I suppose your neighbours found it so, as they did not disperse till late. We were home later than usual, and yet you were all as busy talking when we returned as at sunset.”
“True sir; very true: though I am ashamed to say I did not see you pass the second time. Yet not ashamed either, for I believe it was quite dark. We had a very animated discussion, sir. We were occupied with a subject of very unusual interest, sir; though I assure you it did not prevent my observing to Wickstead that I supposed you had gone round by the lanes, as nobody had seen you return. But, as I was saying, sir, if we had remained under the elm till this time, it would not have been very surprising.”
He paused to observe whether he had raised my father's curiosity. He was satisfied by the reply:—
“Indeed! I do not remember that even when the French invasion was expected, any discussion lasted all night. It must be something of high importance indeed.”
“It is sir, as you say, something of the utmost importance,—as much as the event you speak of. It is in fact an invasion that we apprehend, sir: an invasion of our privileges, of our rights, which are perhaps as valuable to us as our country itself.”
“What can have happened?” said my father. “You alarm me, Carey.”
“I am happy to hear it, sir. The best service which I can render to myself and my friends is to alarm those who have the power to defend our rights. It was agreed last night that as it would be proper to rouse Jowler if your house was attacked, it was now our part to awaken you, sir, to guard our properties. I hope no offence, sir, in comparing you to Jowler; but you perceive what we mean; or rather what Tom Webster means, for it was he that said it, being, as it were, the speaker of the assembly. But I assure you, sir, when your constant anxiety for our welfare was mentioned, we all said ‘Amen!’ so that you perceive no disrespect was meant by the comparison of Jowler.”
“But let me hear what it is that you apprehend,” said my father. “What is this terrible news?”
“It is said, sir, that an Act of Parliament is to be obtained for enclosing Brooke common.”
“So I have heard,” replied my father, quietly.
“Then I conclude it is true,” continued Carey; “and the only obstacle to our proceeding immediately to action is removed. Our meeting will no doubt be held without delay.”
“I will tell you, sir, briefly what passed last night. As soon as I arrived at the Arms, I heard from Wickstead that Sir Henry Withers's groom had called in the morning and announced the news of which we are speaking;-—that the common is to be inclosed, and that we are to be, deprived in consequence of the right of grazing our cows there.”
“Without any exchange?” inquired my father. “Without any advantage being afforded instead of it?”
“The groom mentioned none, sir. Sergeant Rayne said, indeed, that in these cases a piece of land was given to each person instead of the right of common; but we do not know whether it is true. And if it is, what then? What am I, for instance, to do with a bit of land? Only conceive, sir!—Well: we were all of one mind at once, with the exception of Sergeant Rayne, who, between ourselves, has the most extraordinary notions on some subjects. We at once determined to make a stand against oppression; but we should not have known the best method of doing so if it had not been for Tom Webster.”
“Who is he?” asked my father. “I did not know we had a person of that name in the village.”
“No wonder sir, for he has only just arrived—two days ago, I think. He is a cousin of Harper's,—a very fine young man, but out of health. He lives at M—, and is come on a visit for the sake of country air and quiet. A very fine young man he is, sir, and has seen a great deal of the world. If he stays long enough, I should hope he may infuse much spirit into our meetings, and impart a degree of polish to our society.”
“And what is his advice on the present occasion.?”
“That a public meeting should be held, sir, at the Withers' Arms, and that a petition should be presented to the legislature against the threatened measure. He offered (having been engaged in a public meeting at M—) to prepare and move the resolutions, and proposed that Sergeant Rayne should be invited to take the chair, in case you, sir, as we feared, should decline doing us the honour of presiding.”
“I disapprove the object of such a meeting, and could not therefore preside,” said my father.
“We feared so, sir; as the groom said he believed you and his master were both of one mind,—both opposed to our opinions.”
“And what says Sergeant Rayne?”
“He too is of the objective school, sir.”
“Indeed! And were his objections listened to?”
“We thought it better to defer the consideration of them till the day of meeting. Every one, as Tom Webster says, will then have fair play, be he friend or be he enemy. So we proceeded with our arrangements till the sergeant made a very sensible remark, which put an end to our measures for the time. He observed that we were by no means certain of the fact regarding the common, which was indeed the case. But now, sir, we can proceed on your authority.”
“Remember,” said my father, “that I know no more than that the act is likely to be obtained, and—
“True, sir; very true: but we must bestir ourselves now or never.”
“Observe also, Carey, that the reason why I do not countenance your meeting is, that I believe it to be for the interest of Brooke and of every person in it that Brooke common should be cultivated.”
“Indeed, sir! Well, as Tom Webster says, there is no end to varieties of opinion in this strange world; and where there is a difference, discussion is a very good thing.”
“I am quite of Tom Webster's opinion there, Carey; and therefore I shall always be ready to explain the grounds of my opinion to any one who cares to know them; and I am equally ready to hear any defence of the other side of the question.”
“Why, then, if I may ask, sir, do you refuse to attend our meeting?”
“Because I understood that the object of the meeting is not to discuss the question of inclosing waste lands, but to petition Parliament against the measure in our own case.”
“Exactly so. Tom Webster said nothing about a public meeting for the sake of mere argument.”
“Probably not. Besides, your evening conversations would answer the purpose as well, every man in Brooke being present, I believe. Only I suppose you are all on one side of the question.”
“With the exception of the sergeant, sir; and he is so quiet, that little could be made out of his opposition.”
“His quietness speaks in favour of his opinions to my mind,” observed my father; “for he is not too indolent or too timid to say what he thinks. He is not afraid of standing alone, is he?”
“O dear, no, sir! Far from it. He was a brave soldier, and does not know what cowardice is, one way or another. I hope we all approve frankness and fair play; and therefore, sir, if I have your leave, I will declare to him for his encouragement that you are on his side, and will represent to him, as faithfully as I can, the views which you have done me the honour to explain.”
“I was not aware,” said my father, laughing, “that I had put you in possession of my views. They are no secret, however, and every one may know them who wishes it.”
With a compliment to my father's condescension, the barber withdrew.