Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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The Southdown Shepherd.                 89
So many years ere I shall shear the fleece;
So minutes, hours, days, months, and years
Pass'd over to the end they were created,
Would bring white hairs unto a quiet grave.
Ah, what a life were this! how sweet, how lovely!
Gives not the hawthorn bush a sweeter shade
To shepherds, looking on their silly sheep,
Than doth a rich embroider'd canopy
To kings that fear their subjects' treachery?
Oh, yes, it doth; a thousand-fold it doth;
And to conclude—the shepherd's homely curds,
His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle,
His wonted sleep under a fresh tree's shade,
All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,
Is far beyond a Prince's delicates,
His viands sparkling in a golden cup,
His body couched in a curious bed,
When care, mistrust, and treason wait on him.
Allow for the poet's exaltation of this life of the hill-shepherd, and it is as true a picture now as it was in the day that Shakspeare drew it. Still the same peaceful spot, with no shadow of danger on it which a dog or a crook may not ward off; still the same fleecy forms and innocent faces creeping up and down the hill-sides; still the same quiet buzz of insects in the wild thyme, that still gives out the same sweet scent, or the melancholy cry of the pee-wit as it sweeps with the wind over hill and dale; still the same softly-rounded horizon landward, or, seaward, a vast flat of waters until sea and sky meet, and close in the little world of the shepherd. For he has none besides this, and thinks of none and wishes for none. Sheep and dog, and birds and Downs, with the alternations of the seasons, and the flock-duties they bring, are to him the Alpha and the Omega of his existence. For generations it has been so—how many we do not venture to say, for sheep did not come in with the Conqueror; he found them here, and that being the case, of course there were shepherds. In the Weald, most probably, the swineherd held sway, and many a Gurth fed his unruly herd on the fruit of the oak and the beech. But swine could find no mast or acorns, or such-like food, on the unwooded Downs of Sussex. Here there was, and is, nothing but the short sweet grass which has covered it since the day when
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