SURREY is but a small county, the latitudes or longitudes of which a good walker could traverse in a day; but perhaps no other in England can be found so close packed with scenes of manifold beauty. Among the “Home Counties,” at least, it seems best to answer Mr. P. G. Hamerton’s criterion of a perfect country as “one which, in a day’s drive, or half a day’s, gives you an entirely new horizon, so that you may feel in a different region, and have all the refreshment of a total change of scene within a few miles of your own house.” Its over-the-way neighbour Middlesex, which Cobbett, in his slap-dash style, puts down as all ugly, is at least comparatively tame and monotonous; and one must go as far as Derby or Devon for such boldly “accidented” heights as those from which Surrey looks over the growth of London.
The county’s varied features run from north to south in zones a few miles broad, whose characteristic beauties not seldom dovetail into each other with fine effect of contrast. The north border of this “south land” is the winding Thames, its rich banks rising to wooded eminences like St. Ann’s Hill and St. George’s Hill, the swell of Richmond Park, the Ridgeway of Wimbledon, and those suburban eminences from which the Crystal Palace shines over Kent. The east side of this zone is masked by the spread of Greater London, rich and poor; and the west side, too, becomes more thickly dotted with villages and villas; while to the south that giant octopus goes on stretching its grimy tentacles over the green fields turned into “eligible building sites.” How far its process of urbanification will reach, seems to depend on the stability of Britain’s commercial greatness, which again depends, we are told, on the Fiscal question, if not on circumstances quite beyond our control, such as the stock still on hand in the national coal-cellar. When that New Zealand tourist comes to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s, will he find Southwark, like ancient Croton, fallen to a squalid fever-stricken townlet, or an American syndicate at work digging up the ruins of Kingston, as Nippur is now excavated after being forgotten for thousands of years? Babylon is “become heaps,” Nineveh a “dwelling-place for dragons.” What prophet, then, shall assure us that in a yet unbuilt Australian capital, or at some future transatlantic hub of the universe, fragments of jerry-builders’ brick and specimens of electroplated ware from Tooting or Woking may not come to be exhibited, even as our museums treasure Roman tiles and coins dug up in the fields of Surrey! There are scientific Cassandras who hint how no insurance office can guarantee that all these millions of smug citizens might not any night be roused to homeless terror by the shock of an earthquake, like that which ruined San Francisco.