Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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The Southdown Shepherd.
95
difficulties, or in his exchange of the tending of sheep for the instruction of children. The life of the Southdown shepherd is, at best, a " hard one," and presents few or no opportunities for self-improvement, and none of those degrees or steps in the social scale by which men mount Fortune's ladder. As a rule, once a shepherd, always a shepherd; and the shepherd's boy has nothing higher to look to than to be a shepherd. The opportunities of leisure and contemplation which, to minds already formed to study, may seem tempting to some, are more than counter-balanced by the absence, in a shepherd's life, of those incentives to exertion which are supplied to other men by closer contact and the fiercer competition of city-life. To those engaged in them these seem to be evils; and doubtless they have their evil side. But let th6 theoretic lover of solitude—poet or philosopher— try a year or two of sheep-tending on the Southdowns, and those hills, so beautiful and delightful when seen in their summer garb, would soon disgust him by their barren solitude and bleakness. The shepherd endures all this with stolid patience; but it does not develop his mind or raise him in the scale of humanity. We question if the tendency in the life of the Southdown shepherd of modern days is not to sink, rather than to rise, in comparison with other classes of labourers. The latter move onward with the stream; he, almost necessarily by the conditions of his life, is stationary. His world of action is rather narrowed than enlarged. The wide-sweeping Downs are pressed upon by the plough on the one side and by Building Societies on the other; the limit of the shepherd's domains is yearly narrowed, and he is brought more under the eye and within the ordinary control of the farmer, and is less his own master; has lighter responsibilities and less trust; and all this tends to make the Down shepherd a less important member of the rural com­munity than he used to be in bygone days. Still, he remains— perhaps more closely and truly resembling the figure that was seen on the same hills a thousand years ago than any other set of men, on mountain or plain, in this England of ours.
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