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MILLS AND MILLERS.
I like this place,
sunny gleams, resembles a retrospect of life. The mind passes over it with contentment, insensibly pleased with an occasional bright spot, dwelling on no one memory as prominent, but soothed with the peaceful effect of the whole. It is otherwise with the objects which present themselves in the foreground to the lover of rustic scenery. Some are at once repugnant to the artistic sense. No one can find beauty in a newly-built brick cottage or a muddy pond where cattle have trodden down the marsh plants by its rim, which would else have set it in a verdant flowery circlet. Neither of these objects possesses any associations with human needs or human joys and sorrows. On the other hand, let an ancient churchyard, an old half-timbered farm- even a milestone whose time-worn figures are almost obliterated by moss-suddenly meet a wayfarer, and they at once appeal powerfully to his attention. They do more, they keenly touch his heart. Sympathy with human life is the key to the beauty of the country. The poets who can invest rural objects with human interest are thus for ordinary men the best interpreters of nature. Painters, by virtue of their insight and the subtle genius which connects their pictures with man's emotions, appeal more strongly to the reflective and educated mind. Compare the effect, for instance, which a picture like Millet's "L'Angléus” has upon a well-read philosophic disposition and the few elements of beauty which it contains for the general stream of gazers. Ruins, deserted halls, dismantled castles, and the like, do not speak so powerfully to the emotions because they are old, although this is what attracts the mere painter or photographer to them ; but because they have been inseparably connected with men who have long since worked and fought in life's battles, laid themselves down to rest in them, and risen again with the morrow, resolute and persevering unto the end. Such sights appeal at once to the brotherhood of the whole human race. They are a moral lesson-a hope, an aspiration.
Among the multitude of objects which, in an old and settled country like Great Britain, at once catch the eye and take the heart captive with these sentiments, mills, whether they work by wind or by water, are prominent. They possess every element which can give delight to the contemplative mind—the beauty which comes of a long course of usefulness, associations of many kinds-picturesqueness, swiftness of motion, giant power, diversity combined with monotony. Their might and velocity strongly impress the beholder. No object is so pleasing when viewed from a study window as a windmill on a distant eminence cheerfully spinning round against the sky. It is a perpetual Mentor. No encouragement is there to wait for inspiration, or to delay because the worker does not feel in the fitting mood—the mill shames such an excuse. According to the old motto, cut over its low door, “WIND BLOWES, MILN GOES.” Every breeze is the same to it, it turns round and faces them all. So, too, with the water-mill. It runs whether the stream be low or flooded, pellucid, or red with the rains of winter. “All is grist that comes to the mill” in the way of water as well as grain. There are windmills indeed erected to perform different duties to the homely task of grinding meal, which is the end of the ordinary mill. Some are seen from afar in the Fens connected with modern machinery for drainage ; and some, with peculiarly swist and fussy mill-sails, in brick-fields and such like places, revolve day and night with a rapidity which is both tiresome and unpleasing. These never commend themselves to the lover of the country. They remind him of the endless labours of Sisyphus and the Danaides, or of Tityus suffering eternal torments under the earth :
Nec fibris requies datur ulla renatis. The water-mill is older than the wind-mill; but prehistoric corn -such wheat, for instance, as Pytheas, the first traveller from civilisation to Great Britain, saw the natives of Kent drying in large sheds on account of the absence of sun—was ground in handmills, as is still done in the East. Quernes, as these mills are called, are frequently found in the cyclopean underground dwellings of Scotland. Their simplest form consists of two thin circular stones, the upper of which is pierced in the centre and revolves on a wooden or metal pin inserted in the lower one. The grinder dropped the grain into the central hole with one hand, while the other caused the upper stone to revolve by means of a stick inserted in a small hole near the edge. The laboriousness of this operation is well illustrated by a story told of Columba. He was studying under St, Finnian, and every night on which it fell to his lot to grind the corn with the querne, he performed his task so quickly that his companions enviously asserted he had the assistance of an angel in turning the stone. Wilson thinks that at this time (the early part of the sixth century) the querne was the only mill in use. Large water-mills were introduced in the thirteenth century into Scotland, and legal means had to be employed to render their use compulsory. The querne is said to have lingered in the remoter districts of that country until the close of the last century, notwithstanding Alexander III.'s prohibition in 1284, that “Na man sall presume to grind quheit, maishlock, or rye with hands mylne, except he be compelled be storm, or be lack of mills, quilk sould grind the samen.”l
Watermills are among the oldest features of the country, and they have been little improved since their introduction, save that the old mill-stones, which were of mill-stone grit, are now made of composition ; and it has been found out that of all woods, hawthorn is the most useful for timber requisite in the machinery. Few country objects are more picturesque than the labouring wheel with its dropping streams, and the ferns and mosses which so frequently flourish by it. There are certain to be several paintings of such mills in every exhibition. At the Conquest a mill was a great source of profit to the lord of a manor. All his dependants were obliged to use it. Consequently, “one mill” is a frequent entry in Domesday Book, and the miller is a well-known character in song and ballad, witness the Miller of the Dee, and “Little John and Midge, the Miller's Son ;” and who can forget Chaucer's mill at Trumpington, “not fer fro Canterbrigge," and the miller ? —
As any peacock he was proude and gay,
And turnen cappes, and wrastlen wel and shete. Multitudes of mills in Lincolnshire match the Laureate's happy sketch
Let us wander forth
Winds all the vale in rosy folds,
Touching the sullen pool below;
Is dry and dewless. Every one must have noticed the difference between water and windmills from a moral and ästhetic point of view. The
See Wilson's Archæology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland (Sutherland & Knox), 1851, p. 150.
former is smothered in verdure, grave, monotonous, always doing its duty, and yet with a perpetual restful look as of Sunday about it, and a pleasing accessory to the most beautiful river scenery. A windmill, on the contrary, seeks the most elevated and gusty position in the country side, and is always whirring away with an obtrusive air of virtue, which puts a man quietly going about his own business, let alone a lazy man, into a resentsul mood at once. The water-wheel, as it slowly revolves, every now and then almost stopping with a groan, types the highest achievement of Keltic ingenuity, and shows the slowness of its thought; the active windmill, never able to fly round fast enough to please its energy, manifestly came to us from the doggedly industrious levels of Holland. The traveller through our own Holland is struck by the numbers of these windmills on every hillock, each whizzing and flying round with indomitable perseverance. They belong to men who "scrat together” money, little by little, ever intent on their work, never daunted, only miserable in a dead calm, as their ancestors, the old sea kings, were when the wind fell and their idle sails flapped against the masts. There is something of immemorial leisure in the atmosphere round a watermill which has made it dear to poetry and artists, and to country lovers. Near it the angler loves to linger awhile and dream by the hawthorns. The boldest of saucy sparrows would think twice before building its nest in the timbers of a windmill. Beside the big waterwheel, and on the sheds beyond it, wagtails flirt their tails, and all the small birds of the country may be seen fearless and contented, while the dipper, scason after season, plants its mossy nest near the revolving wheel, and flits from boulder to boulder in the stream below. It may be noticed, too, that the owner of a water-mill has always a gay garden and keeps bees. Such delights are denied to dwellers on the airy mounds where windmills are built, but these always possess spacious clean yards and trim offices, features which appear to commend themselves to all owners of windmills.
There is but one type of the water-mill, with its wheel, its ivycovered house, and the geese which haunt the dam. The windmill, on the contrary, presents two distinct forms, neither of which pretends to such an antiquity as belongs to many water-mills. These were frequently an appanage of some well-known religious house, as was the mill at Abbey Dore in the Golden Valley (which still does its work), of the Cistercian house of that name. Windmills are either of painfully new brick and of an imposing height and great sweep of sails, or they are of wood, twisted and warped with sun and shower, with tattered sails and broken arms, leaning to one side, grey and
generally decrepit. The former are doubtless better, commercially, as grinding corn more thoroughly and with greater expedition ; but the latter are dearer to the artist. A subtle play of lights and shadows glances over an old wooden mill which the spick and span brick tower can never boast. The finest picture of a mill in which all its pathetic associations with man-man's life and harvest-are faithfully represented was painted by Millet, the French peasant, and he who contemplates it will find out what latent poetry an ordinary village mill may contain.
The miller himself, both in real life and literature, possesses a twofold character. He is either a rogue, like Chaucer's miller, Simkin,
A there he was forsooth of corn and mele,
And that a slie and usant sur to stele; or a good-natured, easy-going man, such as Tennyson has portrayed:
His double chin, his portly size,
The busy wrinkles round his eyes?
His dusty forehead, drily curled,
And full of dealings with the world. Among tradesmen of a philosophic character, such as cobblers and fishing-rod makers, millers hold a high place. They are always democratic in their views, as being wont to grind all that comes into dust, and to see all their neighbours compelled to resort to them for the staff of life. Their pigs, too, are always fat, and thereby hang dark tales. The gossip of the country-side is well-known to them, and fitly enough their tongue “clappeth as a mill.” Doubtless there is some alloy in their cup of prosperous happiness. Virgil alludes to the weevil, which is not unknown in modern flour at times. Sometimes, again, the water-mill is blocked by ice, and not a breath of air blows to turn the windmill's sails. Millers' wives, too, are often shrews, why is not very apparent, and they live in daily fear of their children being drowned in the dam or killed by the rushing sails. Foreign exportations also convulse the corn market, so that a miller's lise is not uniformly to be coveted. A peck of troubles invariably accrues from the numbers who wish to fish in his mill dam and pit. Naturally he likes to ca:ch his own eels, nor has he much objection to allow a few to throw the fly on his water. But strangers will trespass, tread down his meadow and break his hedges, and then his temper is apt to be short.
Unluckily he fares ill in proverbial literature. “An honest miller hath a golden thumb." The Scotch, with their pawky humour, are never tired of girding at him—"'Ir to be merry and wise,'