Written in England in 1867, by the Rev. W Bealby Lichfield
…as well as the associations which cluster around them, and which are promptly suggested to the thoughtful mind. We enter the old town, and look around us and are pleased with the relics of the past which present themselves to our notice; and the various forms of buildings upon which time has left the frost of age. The old church shaded by the graveyard trees to which our forefathers trod their way on Sabbath morn, and the old dwellings around it where lived and died the men of by-gone ages, are interesting to look upon, as they remind us of many scenes which have been witnessed there.
But we cannot overlook among these objects that which are more than a little interesting, such as “the old inn. The sight of it not only throws us back on the past, but recalls thoughts of social life as then existing.
Previous to the establishment of inns, monasteries were the only places to which travelers could resort on their toilsome journey. Such institutions had their guest chamber, and one of the inmates had the special care of those who required food and sought a night’s repose. Multitudes of travelers, for ages, weary and worn, “Whose feet had been galled by the dust and the thorn,” here found a temporary home, and were safely sheltered from the perils and chill of the night. After the suppression of the religious houses, at the commencement of the Reformation, inns took their rise, and many of them now stand on the high road and in our old towns as they have stood for three centuries.
Interesting is it to look on such a building with its gabled roof, its tier of open gallery, its antiquated windows, and its old gate-entrance leading to the bustling yard, with the old sign hanging where it has hung for many a day. There is an intense look of homeliness and domesticity about the place. It warms our feelings.
The Old Inn when it best flourished was quite in harmony with existing times, when roads were perilous through robbers; travelling was slow and difficult when winds were chill and unkindly, it was an inviting resort when night drew on, though of less importance now, still and may ever be a necessity.
At all times the Old Inn is characteristic of this our journeying life. Life is a journey with more or less solitariness in it. Though a social being, man much separated from his fellow-man. But not withstanding this, he is a traveler, especially in his own province and country, and as such, knows something of the Old Inn-life.
As a traveler, at least occasionally we meet with fellow-travelers, often has he met them at the Old Inn. One of the first thoughts that strikes us as we look at it is, how many travelers have been here? How different are their characters? And how different the circumstances under which they came?
But, among the varied numbers who have been guests, there, we may reckon the ‘servants of God.”
Away from home, and on errands of mercy to perishing man, and in journeying wearisome and perilous, he too, has found grateful the rest and shelter of the home-like Inn. It was not probably all to his liking, yet his wants were supplied, rest was afforded, and some scope given to entertain thoughts of God in his soul, and to be comforted thereby. At such a place have some servants of God wished to end their earthly pilgrimage, as most in harmony with the Christian’s sojourn here; and forcibly are we reminded of the wish of that incomparable man, Leighton, which was gratified by God calling him to his eternal home from an Old Inn.
And there is much in it resembling this, our earthly dwelling-place. The world may be compared to a large Old Inn. We rather tarry awhile than live here. We only stay, but not remain, on earth. We lodge a little time ere we go home. Some, too, tarry so short a time, as to lead us to question why they came at all, while others seem to tarry so long as to make us almost forget that they too will have to depart. So has it been, in regard to the old inn. The stay of some has been but for the passing hour, many only for the night, and some few, from peculiar circumstances, have made a stay as though they had forgotten that they were not at home.
Many, also, who used the old inn did so for the first and last time, and often those who met there in the cool of summer evening or in the winter’s cheerless night met once, and parted never more to meet. The morning sun saw them depart by different roads, and the only bond of union was a thought of the friendly converse enjoyed as they put up for a night at the old inn. And how much of this inn-like life do we experience as we “pass through nature to eternity!” We are but pilgrims, if we be not strangers on the earth.
“Here we meet to part again,
in heaven we part no more.”
There were moments in the day when quietude seems to settle on the old inn. It appears as if nothing was going on there. Standing alone, with its homely and snug aspect and out-hanging sign, it seemed to be inviting the weary passerby to tarry and rest awhile.
But there were times in the day when all was life-like stir and bustle. The sound of the horn came floating on the breeze intimating the speedy arrival of visitors; and, as the coach rolled along and past the dwellings of the old town, many a door and window were opened, and many a smiling countenance seen, and many an eye Expressive of curiosity. How lively the scene then was at the old inn, which gave also fresh life to the quiet old town. The monotonous scene was somewhat broken by new faces, and “stale news” was exchanged for fresh intelligence. Man, more or less everywhere, like the Athenians of old, is eager for something new, and the coach always imported news, as well as goods and passengers. If the coach had been taken off the road much life would have been taken from the town, a fact which has been verified in these modem times.
How analogous is all this to our individual life! We have our quiet seasons and dull ones too; but the dull hour passes, the heavy day closes, and other hours come and brighter days break upon us. Nothing here remains long. The “deep of night” does creep upon us, but it is only a night; and, if the morning have anxiety, and we wish “to know the day’s business ere it come,” yet we know ” the day will end, and then the end is known.” Life is full of the alternations of light and dark, grief and joy, fear and hope. Like travelers at an inn, we have our lone moments, but meet with other faces, and exchange kindly words and greetings which cast a gleam of gladness we did not anticipate. Visitors come and go, unexpected events happen, quietness gives place to bustle, and warm socialities are exchanged for sober retiredness. And best is it for us that life has these varieties. It is most befitting the character of our probationary state that it is a checkered scene.
However, some who came off the coach were travelling on unwelcome business, some to abide in a strange locality, and some to visit the homes of affliction and trouble. Doubtless many of those travelers, if they showed signs of happiness,” showed more than they were master of.” A poet truly says, “Things are not what they seem,” and so is it with men. There is the bustle and the stir, ice energy and the life, the earnest talk and ringing laugh, but under all this, there is the shadow unseen, and the sigh unexpressed. Such were the travelers who met at the old inn in bygone times, when ” the light began to thicken and the crow made wing to the rooky wood,” and when morning came each went his own way never all to meet again,” like to man here, who is ever coming and going, for all are bound for eternity.
Whatever may have been the comforts or the social enjoyments at the old inn, however the travelers may have beguiled the evening hours away, they all felt more or less that they were not at home. The provisions may have been the best, the accommodations good, the company agreeable, the house cleanly, the inmates well-behaved, yet would the thought arise” this after all is not home.
What a magic power is there in that word, home! How endeared are its associations! How musical its sound! It may be only a cot in the lone wilderness, or a cave in the wild rock, a mean tenement in the crowded town, a tent in the sultry desert, yet it home, and around it fresher breezes seem to blow and brighter sunshine to gather. The wanderer far away thinks of it,amid all scenes through which he passes. The soldier on the battle field loses half his courage as he thinks of the spot may never visit more, and the traveling merchant longs for the rest of home.
But such homes are earthly and temporal. There is provided for man true home if he will seek it in God’s own way, a home, not inn-like, but abiding and eternal, where its travelers shall meet and wish no more to part. There is rest in that home unbroken and for ever,
“A rest where pure enjoyment reigns,
And God is loved alone.”
Deluded, indeed, is the man who contents himself with an inn-life when he might possess a mansion; who seeks no other rest than what he may occasionally snatch on the thorny and toilsome road of life. The world, like the old inn, will have its day and be no more. The travelers will cease to come and go. The sign of the temporal will be no more seen. The hum and stir of all the long ages will end, and then will they be found to have been wise in their generation who sought to enter “The house eternal,” and to sit down with the redeemed family in the presence of their Father, God.