Snippets 104. Last week we looked at a quote from A Country Book: for the field, the forest, and the fireside by William Howitt, published in 1859. For much of the book he confines himself to observations on the changing of the seasons, but he also has some things to say about 19th Century life, and how things were changing at the time. He does not shy away from criticising things that he disapproves of, harking back to simpler times, but he is not entirely averse to change. If I had to name the greatest advancement of the 19th Century, without any hesitation I would say the speed of transport. This was the century that saw travel develop from an expensive and time-consuming luxury, to something affordable and convenient, within the grasp of working families.
Think of the steam-boat and the steam-train, ready to bear away their thousands to the very scenes where they would wish to be. To carry the people of the cities, especially of enormous London, afar into the country; to the open heath — the fresh forest — to the seaside — to old halls, and gardens where the mysterious spirit of beauty has been awaiting their arrival for a thousand years. To carry the country people, on the contrary, to the towns — to the sight of the animated bustling crowds, rich shops, noble buildings, and galleries of painting and statuary — to zoological gardens and scientific spectacles full, to them, of the enchantment of wonder.
Do we talk of impossible things? The cheap trains already make such things within the reach of every man, woman, and child that can but get a single day, and a few shillings to spend on it, in the year. On one day 7,000 people visited, by means of an excursion train, the splendid house and grounds of the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, in the Peak of Derbyshire; and every day there, and at the old hall of Haddon, and at numbers of noble halls all over the country, throughout the summer, the coming and going of the people is like the visiting of a fair.
Chatsworth House and Gardens now attracts over half a million visitors every year.
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