T0 a reflective mind London is most delightful at that period of the year when society leaves it. As a rule, the leaders of the gay world pack their trunks for flight almost immediately after the schools' cricket match at Lord's. While the university boat race in early spring may be said to inaugurate the London season, the Eton and Harrow cricket match at Lord's may be said to close it. Eton and Harrow are the two great English schools, as Oxford and Cambridge are the two great universities. The Eton students took with them to the higher colleges the taste for boating which they had acquired on the Thames, and established the sport and pastime of rowing on the Cam and the Isis. Harrow and Eton together emulate in the English meadows the athletic prowess of Oxford and Cambridge on the waters. Eton College was founded by Henry VI in 1440. John Lyon, a yeoman who was an enthusiastic promoter of the education of youth, established a grammar school at Harrow in 1571, from which sprung the present educational establishment. The old schoolhouse of Harrow bears in its carved panels the names of Sir William Jones, Lord Byron, Sheridan, Shendon, Percival, Peel, Palmerston, among its famous scholars.
Eton is equally well represented in the history of illustrious Englishmen. It is a notable fact that many of the students who have most distinguished themselves in their latter days have been celebrated as boating men and cricketers. During the early days of the schools' match in the classic arena of Lord's ground, in the handsome suburban district of St. John's Wood, only a few hundreds of the wealthy and fashionable friends of the students attended to watch and encourage the sports. Today "the world of London" attends the match, Belgravia and Mayfair in their drags and coaches, Brompton and Islington in their broughams and hansoms, middle-class London by train and omnibus. The outer circle of the arena is a confused mass of carriages of every description, the drag being most conspicuous. During the interval for refreshment sumptuous luncheons are spread by the servants and retainers of the aristocratic owners of these nineteenth-century chariots. While the match goes on, every incident of the game is watched with scrupulous attention; when the cricketers are resting, a fashionable reunion over an al fresco luncheon takes place. If it is a fine day, the sight is interesting if not picturesque. The ladies are in their lightest and prettiest costumes; the gentlemen have generally discarded black cloth; the liveries of the servants are bright with many buttons; the silver mountings of coach and carriage flash in the sun; the two blues of the rival schools flutter against the lighter blue of the sky; inside the barricade of carriages thousands of persons are promenading; the grand stands are alive with people coming and going; and then presently the ground is once more cleared for action, everybody gets back to his or her place of observation, and your eye rests upon a green expanse, like an enormous billiard - table, dotted with white - flannelled cricketers. Outside Lord's there is a continual stream of traffic to and fro, coming and going from London; it is regulated by a double line of policemen, who stretch away as far as Baker Street; and in many of the villas round about the grounds private luncheons are spread for friends and visitors. The manager of a London theatre who lives in the shadow of Lord's erects a tent in his garden, where luncheon and dinner are laid for fifty or sixty guests on the two days of the match, which has now become a fashionable festival - the social clasp which binds up for the year the story of the London season.
When society leaves London, as I have already said, then is the great city most delightful to a reflective mind. The parks are rejoicing in their full endowment of autumnal flowers. There is no crowd in the Row. Tradesmen are more than usually polite in response to your business inquiries. You have the run of your club. The attendants are glad to have the monotony of their lives relieved with the incident of serving your dinner. Hansom cabmen will touch their hats to you, and four-wheelers fairly grovel in their politeness. You have become an important person at the West End by the absence of competition.
"By under-ground to Harrow," is the legend that confronts the lingering Londoner at many of the local railway stations of the West End. It is a misnomer. It refers to the extension of London's under-ground system of railway to Harrow; but from Baker Street, with the exception of two insignificant tunnels, the track runs through open country. Last September, a ticket in one hand, a Byron in the other, and a pleasant companion, I availed myself of the line from Baker Street to the present terminus at the Harewe-atte-Hull of the Saxons. If you want a picturesque illustration of the influence of aestheticism in these practical days, go by the underground railway to Harrow. The few silly demonstrations of Bunthornism which have been so quaintly accentuated in Patience are only what may be called bubbles on the modern stream of art progress. The advantages of school-of-art culture and the revival of taste are seen not only in the latest forms of domestic decoration, but in many recent efforts in the way of architecture as applied to the commonest purposes. Every railway station or depot at which the train stops by underground to Harrow is a red brick picture, a modest adaptation of "Old Kensington" to the most practical purposes. Platforms, waiting-rooms, ticket offices, the buildings generally, are constructed with an eye to beauty as well as usefulness. Bedford Park, Fitzjohn Avenue, and Melbury Road are matched with railway stations on the way to Harrow.
I know London pretty well, and its pleasant spots and historic hunting grounds round about, but I could not last September say with' the poet's "Lines on Harrow":
"Again I revisit the hills where we sported,
The streams where we swam, and the fields where we fought;
The school where, loud-warned by the bell, we resorted
To pore o'er the precepts by pedagogues taught."
The new railway station, with its tinted glass and its tiled pavements, is half a mile and more from Harrow, so that the classicality of the little town is not marred by the locomotive. You have quite a long walk up-hill to the steep brow of the churchyard where Byron often wandered
"To catch the last gleam of the sun's setting ray."
On one hand your path is bordered by stately trees, through which presently one sees the gables of college and mansion; while on the left green meadows stretch away toward London, until the eye loses them in a hazy outline of oak and elm against a dull, mysterious - looking sky. For three hundred years one of the great public schools of England has held intellectual court on this sloping mount of this ancient Harrow, which had a local habitation and a name before the Norman Conquest.
Does the reader know the cathedral closes of Durham and Worcester and Lin coin and York? Here and there at Harrow you find yourself recalling bits of those time-honored localities. The houses are not quite wrinkled enough to make the illusion complete; but they have that general air of competence and comfort which characterizes the deaneries and canons' houses of the snug by-ways that belong to cathedral precincts. And what a view there is from the church-yard where Byron pondered with his immortal muse! Four hundred feet high, it commands a magnificent natural panorama, and you may almost be said to stand in the centre of it, as in the artificial panoramas which of late years have become popular in Paris and London. The writer of The Suburban Homes of London tells us that from this altitude at Harrow, ten miles from the Marble Arch at Hyde Park, the view toward the east is bounded by the metropolis; that to the south looks on the Crystal Palace and the range of the Surrey Hills; that on the southeast extends from Knockholt Beeches to Shooter's Hill, and across the Thames to the Langdon Hills on the Essex side. "The west and southwest is specially extensive and beautiful from the church - yard, including Windsor Castle and a great part of the counties of Berkshire and Bucks. The north is the least commanding, but singularly rich, including Hampstead, Hendon, and Barnet; but the proximity of the splendid estate of Lord Wolverton at Etonmore interrupts the long range which characterizes every other direction. "I confess I could not quite realize all this topographically, neither could I feel that I was within half an hour of the noise and bustle of London. The sylvan plain of a Herefordshire landscape, or a stretch of Worcestershire as seen from the Malvern Hills, could not have seemed further away from the metropolis as I sat near the poet's favorite haunt, while the soft shadows of twilight were gathering about the classic spot, and evening mists made ghostly landscapes and "moving lakes" and mimic waterways in the grassy plain below.
It was twenty years after Byron left Harrow that he wrote to Mr. Murray requesting that the remains of his daughter Allegra might be buried there. "There is," he wrote to Murray, "a spot in the churchyard, near the foot-path on the brow of the hill, looking toward Windsor, and a tomb under a large tree (bearing the name of Peachie or Peachy), where I used to sit for hours and hours when a boy. This was my favorite spot; but as I wish to erect a tablet to her memory, her body had better be deposited in the church." In a note to the fourth canto of "Childe Harold" he says, regarding his leaving Harrow for Cambridge in 1806: "When I first went up to college it was a new and heavy-hearted scene for me. I so much disliked leaving Harrow that, though it was time (I being seventeen), it broke my very rest for the last quarter with counting the days that remained. I always hated Harrow till the last year and a half, but then I liked it. "In Finden's Illustrations of the Life and Works of Lord Byron, published half a century ago, there is an engraving of Harrow from a drawing by Clarkson Stanfield, having for its immediate foreground the tombstone and the poet school-boy, illustrative of the stanza:
"Again I behold where for hours I have pondered, As reclining,
at eve, on you tombstone I lay, Or round the steep brow of the
churchyard I wandered
To catch the last gleam of the sun's setting ray."
"Byron's tomb," as it is called, is now incased for safe-keeping in a cage of iron bars, which may preserve it for future generations, but certainly robs it of all picturesqueness to present disciples of the poet.
Under the shadow of the old flint church lies a great colony of the dead, and the living wander curious among the old-fashioned tombstones, or take their summer evening airings on the seats at the northern edge of the churchyard, on the very brow of the hill. Some of the inscriptions are odd indeed, as the following, which commemorates what must have been one of the earliest of railway accidents, for it is dated 1838:
"Bright rose the morn, and vigorous rose poor Port; Gay on the Train he used his wonted sport; Ere noon arrived his mangled form they bore, With pain distorted, and o'erwhelmed with gore: When evening came to close the fatal day, A mutilated corpse the sufferer lay."
The church itself, which is at least seven hundred years old, dominates a wide landscape, and is a part of the familiar view from Hampstead Heath. The shaded roads, the lanes and prescriptive foot-paths all about, are delightful: one can almost reach London by the latter without using the high-roads, albeit at some danger from irate proprietors, very willing to let the public forget its rights for the score of years necessary to make public ways private property again.
But the glory of Harrow is its school, founded so long ago as 1571 by John Lyon, yeoman. The oldest building is near the church, built in the Tudor style, and rich in reminiscence of the distinguished scholars who are the pride of Harrow. The benches and available wood-work of the fourth-form room - that venerable if not venerated place of learning - bear the marks of many generations of youths determined to carve their names more or less enduringly in the world. But the school has a modern face also, many of its buildings being by Gilbert Scott. The latest of all is the new speech-room, a striking building in red brick, semicircular in form, below the church, near the high-road. To the right of this road stand the college chapel, the Vaughan Library - a memorial of the revered head-master - the master's house, and other school buildings. Passing between them, one comes suddenly out upon a long terrace on the other brow of the hill, at one end of which an old dial counts the sunny hours, and whence is another far and lovely view, the counterpart of that from the church. The master's garden stretches down the hillside in careless, pleasant fashion, as though London and life were of no concern to the sweet idleness of the scholar, while off at the west, Uxbridge way, is a tract of country said to be the most sparsely inhabited in the home-counties.
It was at Harrow School that commenced one of the warmest and most lasting friendships Lord Byron ever formed. He saw his old school-fellow Lord Clare in Italy after many years of separation. Says the poet, in his "Detached Thoughts": "I met him in the road between Imola and Bologna, after not having met for eight or nine years. This meeting annihilated, for a moment, all the years between the pre sent time and the days of Harrow. It was a new and inexplicable feeling, like rising from the grave, to me. Clare, too, was much agitated - more in appearance than myself, for I could feel his heart beat to his fingers' ends, unless, indeed, it was the pulse of my own which made me think so. We were obliged to part for our different journeys - he for Rome, I for Pisa - but with the promise to meet again in the spring. We were but five minutes together, and on the public road, but I hardly recollect an hour of my existence which could be weighed against them." In Hours of Idleness a poem is addressed to Lord Clare which recalls the boyish days of both at Harrow:
Friend of my youth! when young we roved,
Like striplings, mutually beloved,
With friendship's purest glow,
The bliss which winged those rosy hours
Was such as pleasure seldom showers
On mortals here below."
If one had travelled by steamer and by rail, during many days, to wander in the footsteps of Byron's boyish days, to trace out the spots where he fought the tyrants of his school, played cricket, or indulged his poetic dreams of fame, the pleasures of a Harrow ramble might possibly have been intensified. It would be far more impressive in a London drawing-room to talk of your Byronic reminiscences of Zaragoza, Negropont, Corinth, Verona, Ravenna, than of your excursion from Baker Street to Harrow; and there are many great and wealthy English travelers, who have surveyed mankind from China to Peru, who know nothing of Chertsey meads, Virginia Water, the backwaters of the upper Thames, the haunts about Burnham Beeches, the breezy commons and the shady nooks and corners that lie around London little more than ten miles from town.
Harrow has a history full of antiquarian interest and historic romance. Thomas a Becket held state here, and Wolsey was rector of the parish, and lived in a moated house still to be found by the pedestrian. And, as in other suburban towns and villages about London, the past and the present are pleasantly linked together by a hostelry that seems to belong to the coaching days, and suggests the time when the well-mounted highwayman was a picturesque though dangerous incident of the great roads that lead in and out of the metropolis. There is the swinging sign courting the breeze where probably the cross of the olden times reared aloft its Christian symbol. The inn has a quaint appearance, quietly retiring from the road, its windowpanes fairly blinking with geniality. It has a bar redolent of old ale and rum, and a coffee-room where joints of ham and beef, sticks of celery and Gloucestershire cheese, invite the sojourner to physical enjoyment. At the back of the house the old inn has an old-fashioned garden to match its sign, its bar, and its solid English fare. It grows stocks, and daisies, and marigolds, and roses, and " lad's - love," or "old man"; and beyond the trimmed lawn and the hedge-row that shuts in the flower borders from the grosser forms of vegetation there is a kitchen garden with apple trees and asparagus beds and potato patches; and farther away, outside the kitchen garden, lies that typical English landscape which had so many charms for Byron. Carriers' carts and family carriages and picnic brakes drive up to that inviting way-side inn of suburban London, and foaming tankards are quaffed there by rosy-faced people who look as if they had never seen the great city, though it lies under the mist yonder only a few miles away.
Originally published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. 1884.