MANY of my younger, and some of my maturer years, were passed on the borders of Windsor Forest. I was early given to long walks and rural explorations, and there was scarcely a spot of the Park or the Forest, with which I was not intimately acquainted. There were two very different scenes, to which I was especially attached: Virginia Water, and a dell near Winkfield plain.
The bank of Virginia Water, on which the public enter from the Wheatsheaf Inn, is bordered, between the cascade to the left and the iron gates to the right, by groves of trees, which, with the exception of a few old ones near the water, have grown up within my memory. They were planted by George the Third,  and the entire space was called the King's Plantation. Perhaps they were more beautiful in an earlier age than they are now: or I may so think and feel, through the general preference of the past to the present, which seems inseparable from old age. In my first acquaintance with the place, and for some years subsequently, sitting in the large upper room of the Inn, I could look on the cascade and the expanse of the lake, which have long been masked by trees.
Virginia Water was always open to the public, through the Wheatsheaf Inn, except during the Regency and Reign of George the Fourth, who not only shut up the grounds, but enclosed them, where they were open to a road, with higher fences than even the outside passengers of stage-coaches could look over, that he might be invisible in his punt, while fishing on the lake. William the Fourth lowered the fences, and re-opened the old access.
While George the Third was king, Virginia Water was a very solitary place. I have been there day after day, without seeing another visitor. Now it has many visitors. It is a source of great enjoyment to many, though no longer suitable to Les RÆveries d'un Promeneur Solitaire.
A still more solitary spot, which had especial charms for me, was the deep forest dell already mentioned, on the borders of Winkfield Plain. This dell, I think, had the name of the Bourne, but I always called it the Dingle. In the bottom was a watercourse, which was a stream only in times of continuous rain. Old trees clothed it on both sides to the summit, and it was a favourite resort of deer. I was a witness of their banishment from their forest-haunts. The dell itself remained some time unchanged: but I have not seen it since 1815, when I frequently visited it in company with Shelley, during his residence at Bishopgate, on the eastern side of the Park. I do not know what changes it may have since undergone. Not much, perhaps, being now a portion of the Park. But many portions of the Park and its vicinity, as well as of the immediate neighbourhood of Windsor, which were then open to the public, have ceased to be so, and such may be the case with this. I have never ventured to acertain the point. In all the portions of the old forest, which were distributed in private allotments, I know what to expect. I shrink from the ghosts of my old associations in scenery, and never, if I can help it, revisit an enclosed locality, with which I have been familiar in its openness.
Wordsworth would not visit Yarrow, because he feared to disappoint his imagination:
Be Yarrow stream unseen, unknown!
Yet, when he afterwards visited it, though it was not what he had dreamed, he still found it beautiful, and rejoiced in having seen it:
The vapours linger round the heights:
He found compensation in the reality, for the difference of the imagined scene: but there is no such compensation for the disappointments of memory: and when---in the place of scenes of youth, where we have wandered under antique trees, through groves and glades, through bushes and underwood, among fern, and foxglove, and bounding deer; where, perhaps, every "minutest circumstance of place"4 has been not only "as a friend" in itself, but has recalled some association of early friendship, or youthful love---we can only pass between high fences along dusty roads, I think it best to avoid the sight of the reality, and to make the best of cherishing at a distance
The memory of what has been,
I do not express, or imply, any opinion on the general utility of enclosures. For the most part, they illustrate the scriptural maxim: "To him that hath much, much shall be given; and from him that hath little, shall be taken away even the little he hath." They are, like most events in this world, "Good to some, bad to others, and indifferent to the majority." They are good to the landowner, who gets an addition to his land: they are bad to the poor parishioner, who loses his rights of common: they are bad to the lover of rural walks, for whom footpaths are annihilated: they are bad to those, fro whom the scenes of their youth are blotted from the face of the world. These last are of no account in ledger balances, which profess to demonstrate that the loss of the poor is more than counterbalanced by the gain of the rich; that the aggregate gain is the gain of the community; and that all matters of taste and feeling are fitly represented by a cypher. So be it.
53rd George III. Cap. 158.
LXIV.---And be it further enacted, That from and after the first day of July one thousand eight hundred and fourteen, all and singular the Lands, Tenements and Heridaments within the said respective Parishes and Liberties (save and except such Parts thereof respectively as are now or shall or may become vested in His Majesty, or any Person or Persons in Trust for Him by virtue hereof) shall be, and the same is and are hereby disafforested to all Intents and Purposes whatsoever; and that from thenceforth no Person or Persons shall be questioned or liable to any Pain, Penalty or Punishment for hunting, coursing, killing, destroying or taking any Deer whatsoever within the same, save and except within such Part or Parts thereof (if any) as shall be enclosed within Pales and kept for a Park or Parks by the Owners, Lesees, or Tenants thereof.
There can be little doubt, that the exception in favour of the Crown was intended to apply to all the provisions of the lause: but it was held by Counsel learned in law, that it applied to the first half only, and that, after the specified day, it was lawful to kill deer in any portion of the old forest, not enclosed with pales, whether such portion had, or had not, been vested in the Crown. The Crown allotment had been left as it was.
Armed with this opinion, a farmer of Water Oakley, whose real name I have forgotten in his assumed name, calling himself Robin Hood, and taking with him two of his men, whom he called Scarlet and Little John, sallied forth daily into the forest to kill the king's deer, and returned home every evening, loaded with spoil.
[notes within square brackets were added by Informal]
[1 "I am not a fair judge of George the Third. I passed many of my earliest years in the neighbourhood of Windsor, where he was certainly popular. He lived much in public, attending every day at Ascot and Egham races, riding on horseback in the park and forest. There was not a trace, then, of the system of exclusion which has destroyed to me all the charm of the neighbourhood. Subsequently, too, I liked to see him at the theatre. He went week after week to Covent Garden, and there was something very genial in his hearty enjoyment of Comedy. You see I have pleasantassociations with him, which have nothing to do with politics, but have their influence in judgement of character."