Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
The Physical Aspect of Early Britain
By John Richard Green (18371883)
From The Making of England
IT was not merely its distance from the seat of rule or the later date of its conquest that hindered the province from passing completely into the general body of the Empire. Its physical and its social circumstances offered yet greater obstacles to any effectual civilization. Marvellous as was the rapid transformation of Britain in the hands of its conquerors, and greatly as its outer aspect came to differ from that of the island in which Claudius landed, it was far from being in this respect the land of later days. In spite of its roads, its towns, and its mining works, it remained, even at the close of the Roman rule, an isle of blowing woodland, a wild and half-reclaimed country, the bulk of whose surface was occupied by forest and waste. The rich and lower soil of the river valleys, indeed, which is now the favourite home of agriculture, had in the earliest times been densely covered with primæval scrub; and the only open spaces were those whose nature fitted them less for the growth of trees, the chalk downs and oolitic uplands that stretched in long lines across the face of Britain from the Channel to the Northern Sea. In the earliest traces of our history these districts became the seats of a population and a tillage which have long fled from them as the gradual clearing away of the woodland drew men to the richer soil. Such a transfer of population seems faintly to have begun even before the coming of the Romans; and the roads which they drove through the heart of the country, the waste caused by their mines, the ever-widening circle of cultivation round their towns, must have quickened this social change. But even after four hundred years of their occupation the change was far from having been completely brought about. It is mainly in the natural clearings of the uplands that the population concentrated itself at the close of the Roman rule, and it is over these districts that the ruins of the villas or country houses of the Roman landowners are most thickly scattered.