Title: From Paddington to Penzance
Author: Charles G. Harper
Release date: February 17, 2019 [eBook #58898]
Credits: Produced by Chris Curnow, Charlie Howard, and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive)
By the Author of the Present Volume.
Demy 8vo, cloth extra, 16s.
THE BRIGHTON ROAD:
OLD TIMES AND NEW ON A CLASSIC HIGHWAY.
With a Photogravure Frontispiece and Ninety Illustrations.
“The revived interest in our long-neglected highways has already produced a considerable crop of books descriptive of English road life and scenery, but few have been more attractive than this substantial volume. The author has gathered together a great deal of amusing matter, chiefly relating to coaching and life on the road in the days of George IV., wherewith to supplement his own personal observations and adventures. He wields a clever pen on occasion—witness his graphic sketch of the ‘ungodly tramp’ whom he met between Merstham and Crawley. The book, in brief, is inspired by a genuine love of the road and all its associations, past and present, animate and inanimate. Its ninety illustrations, partly sketches made by the author on the way, and partly reproductions of old-time pictures and engravings, will add greatly to its attractions.”—Daily News.
“This is a book worth buying, both for the narrative and the illustrations. The former is crisp and lively, the latter are tastefully chosen and set forth with much pleasing and artistic effect.”—Scottish Leader.
“The Brighton Road was merry with the rattle of wheels, the clatter of galloping horses, the bumpers of hurrying passengers, the tipping of ostlers, the feats of jockeys and ‘whips’ and princes, the laughter of full-bosomed serving-wenches, and the jokes of rotund landlords, and all this Mr. Harper’s handsome and picturesque volume spreads well before its readers. To the author, Lord Lonsdale, with his great feat on the road between Reigate and Crawley, is the last of the heroes, and the Brighton Parcel Mail is the chief remaining glory of what was once the most frequented and fashionable highway of the world. As Mr. Harper sadly says, ‘the Brighton of to-day is no place for the travel-worn;’ but, with his book in hand, the pedestrian, the horseman, the coachman, or the cyclist, may find the road that leads to it from town one of the most interesting and entertaining stretches of highway to be found anywhere.”—Daily Chronicle.
“Space fails us to mention the many sporting events that have been decided upon, or near, the Brighton Road. They are duly recorded in this lively volume.... An old writer, speaking of Brighton shore, talks of the ‘number of beautiful women who, every morning, court the embraces of the Watery God;’ but these Mr. Harper found wanting, so he fled to Rottingdean.”—Spectator.
“This handsome book on the Brighton Road should be attractive to three classes in particular—those who like coaching, those who enjoy cycling, and the ‘general reader.’”—Globe.
“A pleasant gossiping account of a highway much trodden, ridden, driven, and cycled by the Londoner; a solid and handsome volume, with attractive pictures.”—St. James’s Gazette.
“The Brighton Road is the classic land, the Arcadia, of four-in-hand driving. An ideally smooth, hard, high road, with no more of uphill and down than a coach could travel over at a canter going up, and at a rattling trot, with the skid on, going downhill, it was a road that every sporting Londoner knew by heart, and many a London man and woman who cared nothing for sport.... The ancient glories of the road live for the author, and when he walks along the highway from London to Brighton, he seems to tread on holy ground. He would never have written so pleasant a book as ‘The Brighton Road’ had he been less of an idealist. He has, however, other qualifications for bookmaking besides a delight in coaching and its ancient palmy days. Something of an archæologist, he can speak learnedly of churches, both as ecclesiologist and artist, and has an eye for the human humours as well as the picturesque natural beauties of the road. His book is enriched with over ninety good illustrations, mainly from his own hand. Add to this, that Mr. Harper writes English pleasantly and well, with thorough love for and knowledge of his subject, and the reader of this review will see that ‘The Brighton Road’ that I am inviting him to buy or borrow is a thoroughly honest, good, and readable book.”—Black and White.
LONDON: CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY.
THE RECORD OF A SUMMER TRAMP FROM
LONDON TO THE LAND’S END
CHARLES G. HARPER
AUTHOR OF “THE BRIGHTON ROAD,” ETC.
ILLUSTRATED BY THE AUTHOR WITH ONE HUNDRED AND FOUR DRAWINGS
Done chiefly with a Pen
CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY
To General Hawkes, C.B.
My Dear General,
Although we did not tour together, you and I, there is none other than yourself to whom I could so ardently desire this book to be inscribed—this by reason of a certain happening at Looe, and not at all for the sake of anything you may find in these pages, saving indeed that the moiety of them is concerned with your county of Cornwall.
I have wrought upon this work for many months, in storm and shine; and always, when this crowded hive was most dreary, the sapphire seas, the bland airs, the wild moors of that western land have presented themselves to memory, and at the same time have both cheered and filled with regrets one who works indeed amid the shoutings and the tumults ofvi the streets, but whose wish is for the country-side. You reside in mitigated rusticity; I, in expiation of some sin committed, possibly, in by-past cycles and previous incarnations, in midst of these roaring millions; and truly I love not so much company.
Yours very faithfully,
CHARLES G. HARPER.
Before I set about the overhauling of my notes made on this tour—afoot, afloat, awheel—from London to Land’s End, I confided to an old friend my intention of publishing an account of these wanderings. Now, no one has such a mean idea of one’s capacities as an old friend, and so I was by no means surprised when he flouted my project. I have known the man for many years; and as the depth of an old friend’s scorn deepens with time, you may guess how profound by now is his distrust of my powers.
“Better hadn’t,” said he.
“And why not?” said I.
“See how often it has been done,” he replied. “Why should you do it again, after Elihu Burritt, after Walter White, and L’Estrange, and those others who have wearied us so often with their dull records of uneventful days?”
“I do it,” I said, “for the reason that poets writeviii poetry, because I must. Out upon your Burritts and the rest of them; I don’t know them, and don’t want to—yet. When the book is finished, then they shall be looked up for the sake of comparison; at present, I keep an open mind on the subject.”
And I kept it until to-day. I have just returned from a day with these authors at the British Museum, and I feel weary. Probably most of them are dead by this time, as dead as their books, and nothing I say now can do them any harm; so let me speak my mind.
First I dipped into the pages of that solemn Yankee prig, Burritt, and presently became bogged in stodgy descriptions of agriculture, and long-drawn parallels between English and American husbandry. Stumbling out of these sloughs, one comes headlong upon that true republican’s awkward raptures over titled aristocracy. The rest is all a welter of cheap facts and interjectional essays in the obvious.
Then I essayed upon Walter White’s “Londoners Walk to the Land’s End”—horribly informative, and with an appalling poverty of epithet. This dreadful tourist was used (he says) to sing and recite to the rustics whom he met.
“’Tis a dry day, master,” say the thirsty countrymen to him; while he, heedless of their artful formula, calls not for the flowing bowl, but strikes an attitude, and recites to them a ballad of Macaulay’s!
And yet those poor men, robbed of their beer, applauded (says our author), and, like Oliver Twist, asked for more.
ix Then an American coach-party had driven over part of our route, following the example of “An American Four-in-Hand in Britain,” by Citizen Carnegie. Indeed, we easily recognise the Citizen again, under the name of Mæcenas, among this party, which produced the “Chronicle of the Coach.”
The same Americanese pervades both books; the same patronage of John Bull, and the same laudation of those States, is common to them; but for choice, the Citizen’s own book is in the viler taste. Both jig through their pages to an abominable “charivari” of their own composing, an amalgam of “Yankee Doodle” and the “Marseillaise,” one with (renegade Scot!) a bagpipe “obbligato.”
They anticipate the time when we shall be blessed with a Republic after the model of their own adopted country; the Citizen (I think) commonly wears a cap of liberty for headgear, and a Stars and Stripes for shirt. This last may possibly be an error of mine. But at any rate I should like to see him tucking in the tails of such a star-spangled banner.
These were the works which were to forbid a newer effort at a book aiming at the same destination, but proceeding by an independent route, and (as it chanced) written upon different lines—written with what I take to be a care rather for personal impressions than for guide-book history.
We won to the West by no known route, but followed the inclinations of irresponsible tourists, with a strong disinclination for martyrdom on dusty highways and in uninteresting places. This, too, is explanatory of our taking the train at certainx points and our long lingering at others. If, unwittingly or by intent, I have here or there in these pages dropped into history, I beg your pardon, I’m sure; for all I intended was to show you personal impressions in two media, pictures and prose.
CHARLES G. HARPER.
London, October 1893.
|Leaving London—The Spirit of the Silly Season—An Unimportant Residuum—The Direct Road—And the Indirect—To Richmond by Boat||1–5|
|Radical Richmond and its Royal Memories—The Poets’ Chorus—The Social Degradation implied by Tea and Shrimps—No Water at Richmond||6–9|
|Rural Petersham—The Monuments of Petersham Church—Ham House—Beer, Beauty, and the Peerage—The Earls of Dysart and their Curious Preferment—Village Hampdens and Litigation—Ham and the Cabal—Horace Walpole and his Trumpery Ghosts—Kingston—The Dusty Pother anent Coway Stakes—The Author “drops the Subject”—The King’s Stone—The Reader is referred to the Surrey Archæological Society, and the Tourists pursue their Journey—The Philosophy of the Thames—To Shepperton||9–17|
|Windsor and Eton—The Terrific Keate—Persuasions of Sorts—Bray and its Most Admirable Vicar—Taplow Bridge—Boulter’s Lock—Cookham||17–23|
|An Indignant Man—Advantages of Indignation and a Furious Manner—Al fresco Meals—Medmenham Abbey—Those unkind Topographers—The Hell Fire Club—From Hambledon to Henley||23–28|
|Regatta Island—Its Shoddy Temple—The Preposterous Naiads and River Nymphs of the Eighteenth Century Poets—Those Improper Creatures v. County Councils—A Poignant Individual—Mary Blandy, the Slow Poisoner||28–33|
|Picturesque Wargrave—The Loddon River and Patricksbourne—Sonning—A Typical Riverside Inn—Filthy Kennet Side—Reading to Basingstoke||33–35|
|Hampshire Characteristics—White of Selborne as a Vandal—Holy Ghost Chapel||35–38|
|A Dreary Road—Micheldever—Hampshire Literary Lights—The Worthies—“Johēs Kent de Redying”||38–41|
|Winchester—The City Lamps—The Cathedral—Saint Swithun||41–48|
|Wykeham—The Renaissance in the Cathedral—The Puritans—Winchester Castles, Royal and Episcopal—A Graceless Corporation—The Military—Saint Catherine’s Hill||48–55|
|A Literary Transfiguration—Wyke—An Unique Brass—The Romance of Lainston—Sparsholt||56–59|
|A Rustic Symposium||60–64|
|Camping-out of Necessity—The Tramp en amateur—Soapless Britons—The Livelong Day||64–65|
|Restoration at Romsey—Prout justified—An Unsportsmanlike Palmerston||66–68|
|The New Forest—The Woodman’s Axe—The coming Social Storm—Lyndhurst—Brockenhurst—Avon Water||68–74|
|A Superior Pedestrian—Christchurch—An Enigmatical Epitaph||74–76|
|Bournemouth—The Interesting Invalid—Languorous Romances—Bournemouth, the Paradise of the Unbeneficed||76–79|
|Our Encounter with an American||79–81|
|By the Sea to North Haven—Studland—Our Coldest Welcome at an Inn—To Swanage||82–83|
|The Isle of Purbeck—Purbeck Marble—Domesticated Swanage—The Rush for Ground-rents||83–86|
|Corfe—Corfe Castle—Those Ubiquitous Roundheads||86–88|
|Lulworth Castle—The Dorset Coast—Osmington||88–90|
|Weymouth and George the Third—An Old-time Jubilee—A Gorgeous Individual—Railways and Derivatives—Hotel Snobbery||91–93|
|Abbotsbury—The Abbey Ruins—Saint Catherine’s Chapel—Historic Wessex—The Chesil Beach—West Bay, Bridport—A Hilly Country||93–97|
|Chideock—One who fared at Dead of Night—Early Rising||97–99|
|Charmouth—Concerning Rainy Days by the Sounding Sea—The Devon Borders—A Humorous Wheelman||99–101|
|Axminster—The Battle of Brunenburgh—The “Book of Remembrance”—Axminster Carpets||102–104|
|Drakes of Ashe—Axmouth—The Fearful Joys of the Day-tripper—Seaton||105–107|
|Exeter, a Busy City—Richard the Third—A Chivalric Myth—Northernhay—The Cathedral: Black but Comely—St. Mary Steps||108–111|
|The Suburb of Saint Thomas—Alphington—Exminster||112–116|
|A Grotesque Saint—The Pious Editor||116–118|
|Beside the Exe to Powderham—The Courtenays—The Atmospheric Railway||118–120|
|Starcross and its Aspirations—The Warren—Langstone Point—Mount Pleasant—The Limitations of Dawlish||120–124|
|The Legend of the Parson and Clerk||124–127|
|Teignmouth—The Sad Tale of the Market House—Doleful Ratepayers—Teignmouth Harbour—Devon Weather—Society—To Shaldon||127–133|
|The (more or less) True Story of an Artist—Labrador Tea-gardens—Peripatetic Organ-grinders—The Author’s Indignation moves him poetically—And he reflects upon Comic Songs||133–137|
|Devon Combes—Maidencombe—Where the Devil died of the Cold—Who was Anstey, of Anstey’s Cove?—“Thomas” of Anstey’s||137–140|
|Torquay—Still growing—The Witchery of Tor Bay Scenery—Charter Day—Napoleon on board the “Billy Ruffian”||140–144|
|Teutonic Paignton—Thoughts on German Bands—The Present Author loves a Comely Falsehood, but destroys a Lying Tradition—Berry Pomeroy and the Seymours||144–149|
|Totnes—Brutus the Trojan—“Oliver, by the Grace of God”—To Dartmouth||149–153|
|Down the Dart—Nautical Terms||153–154|
|Dartmouth—Castles of Dartmouth and Kingswear—Fighting the Foreigner—An Unrestored Church—Paternal Government||154–159|
|Dittisham and the Dart—Tea at Dittisham, and so “Home”||159–162|
|Stoke Fleming—A Country Coach—Slapton Sands—To Kingsbridge||163–165|
|Kingsbridge—Its one Literary Celebrity—“Peter Pindar” upon his Barn—Kingsbridge Grammar School||165–171|
|Salcombe River—Voyage to Salcombe—Hotel hunting—Salcombe Shops—The Castle||171–176|
|Voyage to Plymouth—The Tourists are Extremely Ill—Land at last—The Hoe and its Memorials—Politics and Patriotism—The Hamoaze—Saltash||176–183|
|An Old Author on the Characteristics of Cornwall—Saint Budeaux—The Three Towns—Stained Glass extraordinary||184–187|
|Antony—Richard Carew: a Seventeenth Century Poet—The Tourists are entreated despitefully, and quarrel||187–190|
|Carew’s Epitaph at Antony—Downderry||191–192|
|A Lovely Valley, a Moorland Stream, and what befell there||193–195|
|Looe—Stage-like Picturesqueness—Hotel Visitors’ Books||195–201|
|Talland—Humorous Memorials of the Dead—Epitaph on a Smuggler—“John Bevyll of Kyllygath”—A Notable Devil-queller||201–207|
|The Road to Polperro—The “Three Pilchards” Inn—Saturday Night at Polperro—John Wesley’s Experiences of that Place||207–213|
|Lanteglos-juxta-Fowey—A Cornish Cross—Polruan—Again the Comic Song!—Fowey—Tourists’ Lumber||214–218|
|Par: a Cornish Seaport||219–220|
|An Old-time Adventure—Deserted Mining Fields—Saint Austell||220–225|
|By Carrier’s Cart to Mevagissey—John Taylor, the “Water Poet,” on his Adventure there—Exceptional Britons||225–228|
|Mevagissey—Gorran Haven—The Inhospitable Hamlet of Saint Michael Caerhayes—In the Dark to Veryan—Hospitality of the Village Inn||228–234|
|Treworlas—Philleigh by the Fal—Truro City—Truro Cathedral||234–239|
|A “Lift” to Redruth—Local Tales—Saint Day—Redruth—The Tourists are taken for “Hactors,” and are sorrowfully obliged to disclaim the Honour||239–242|
|A Rainy Day—Available Literature of the Hotel—The Cornishman and the Church—Cornish Livings||242–245|
|Cam Brea—The Disillusionments of Exploration—Pool v. Poole—Dolcoath Mine—Squalid Camborne||246–249|
|The Hamlet of Barrepper—Cornish Names—Marazion||249–252|
|Alverton—Mount’s Bay—Penzance—German Band-itti—Pellew’s Birthplace—Saint Michael’s Mount, and the Loyal Saint Aubyns—The Newlyn School—Bridges, Potsherds, and Old Boots||252–262|
|To Land’s End—Saint Buryan—The First and Last House in England||262–268|
|“Great Ships Lay Anchored”||Frontispiece|
|List of Illustrations||xxi|
|Richmond Lock Works||5|
|New Inn, Ham||11|
|“W. E. Gladstone”||19|
|Staircase in Eton College||20|
|Windsor: Early Morning||20|
|Dove Cote, Hurley||25xxii|
|Evening at Henley||33|
|Inscription: Sherborne Saint John||36|
|Holy Ghost Chapel, Basingstoke||37|
|Entrance to the Close, Winchester||43|
|St. Swithun and the Indignant Tourist||47|
|The Deanery, Winchester||50|
|Bishop Morley’s Palace||52|
|High Street, Winchester||52|
|A Peep over Roof-tops, Winchester||54|
|Saint Catherine’s Hill from Itchen Meads||55|
|“Ad Portas,” Winchester College||56|
|Interior, Sparsholt Church||59|
|A Ford in the New Forest||73|
|“Politics and Agriculture”||89|
|“Gazed after us”||90|
|“Extremely Amusing, I do assure you”||92|
|“Humorous Wheelman, Garbed Fearfully”||101|
|Axmouth, from Seaton||105|
|Exeter Cathedral: West Front||110|
|Exeter, from the Dunsford Road||112|
|An Exminster Monument||115|
|Lee Mount, Dawlish||124|
|Sea Wall, Teignmouth||126|
|Railway and Sea-wall, Night||128|
|Railway and Sea-wall, from East Cliff, Teignmouth||128|
|Berry Pomeroy Castle||147|
|From a Monument, Berry||149|
|Ancient Ironwork, South Door of Saint Saviour’s Church, Dartmouth||158|
|Arms of Dartmouth on the Old Gaol||159|
|Fore Street, Kingsbridge||166|
|Headmaster’s Desk, Kingsbridge||170|
|Kingsbridge Quay: Evening||172|
|Guildhall, East Looe, and Borough Seal||197|
|“Comparatively Prosaic Fisherman”||198|
|The “Jolly Sailor”||200|
|Seal of West Looe||201|
|An Old Shop, Polperro||211|
|A Cornish Moor||220xxiv|
|Font, Saint Austell||224|
|A Note at Gorran||229|
|Roseland Inn, Philleigh||236|
|Druidical Altar, Carn Brea||248|
|Saint Michael’s Mount||253|
|Penzance, from above Gulval||254|
|Saint Michael’s Mount: Entrance to the Castle||256|
|Penzance Harbour: Night||256|
|Chevy Chase Hall||259|
|The Longships Lighthouse||264|
|Saint Germoe’s Chair||268|
There were two of us: myself, the narrator, the artist-journalist of these truthful pages, and my sole companion, the Wreck. Why I call him by this unlovely title is our own private business, our exclusive bone of contention; not for untold gold would I disclose the identity of that man, the irresponsible, the nerveless, mute, inglorious fellow-wayfarer in this record of a summer’s tour. Let him, nameless save by epithet, go down with this book to a more or less extended posterity. But I give you some slight portraiture of him,2 so that you shall see he was not so very ill-favoured a Wreck, at any rate.
This man, willing to be convinced of the pleasure and the healthful profit of touring afoot, yet loth to try so grand a specific for varied ills, delayed long and faltered much between yea and nay ere he was finally pledged to the trip; but a time for decision comes at last, even to the most vacillating, and at length we set out together on this leisured tour.
It was time. When we left London the spirit of the silly season roamed abroad, and made men mad: the novelists were explaining diffusely in the columns of the public press why they wrote no plays; the playwrights were giving the retort discourteous (coram publico) to the effect that the novelists had all the will but didn’t know how, and the factions between them made any amount of copy for the enterprising editor who looked on and, so to speak, winked the other eye while the combatants contended. Unsuccessful Parliamentary candidates were counting the cost of their electoral struggles, and muttering melodramatic prophecies of “a time will come”; the eager journalist wandered about Fleet Street, seeking news and finding none, for the Building Societies had not yet begun to collapse; and the chiefest streets of town were “up.”
Those happy men, the layers of wood-paving, had created a delightful Rus in Urbe of their own in Piccadilly, and enjoyed a prolonged sojourn amid such piney odours as Bournemouth itself never knew: here was health-giving balsam for them that had no cash to spend in holiday-making! But3 indeed almost every one had left town; only an unimportant residuum of some four millions remained, and wide-eyed emaciated cats howled dismally in deserted areas of the West End, while evening breezes blew stuffily across the Parks and set the Londoner sighing for purer air where blacks were not, nor the shouting of the streets annoyed the ear.
If you take the reduced ordnance map of England, and rule a straight line upon it from Paddington to Penzance and the Land’s End, you will find that the distance by this arbitrary measurement is some 265 miles, and that the line passes through or near Staines, Basingstoke, Salisbury, Exeter, Truro, and Redruth, to Penzance and Sennen Cove, by Penwithstart, touching the sea at three places en route—Fowey, Par, and Charlestown, neighbouring towns in Cornwall.
The most direct coach-road is given by Cary, of the New Itinerary, as 297 miles 5 furlongs. It was measured from Hyde Park Corner, and went through Brentford, Hounslow, Staines, Egham, Bagshot, Hartford Bridge, Basingstoke, Whitchurch, Andover, Salisbury, Blandford, Dorchester, Bridport, Axminster, Honiton, Exeter, Crockernwell, Okehampton, Launceston, Bodmin, Redruth, Pool, Camborne, Hayle River, and Crowlas. The route, it will be seen from this breathless excerpt, was commendably direct, thirty-two miles only being added by way of deviation from the measured map. On this road, so far as Exeter at least, much might be gleaned of moving interest in matters of coaching times, but beyond the Ever Faithful City no first-class4 nor very continuous service seems to have been maintained: the Royal Mail, Defiance, Regulator, Traveller, Celerity, and Post coaches finding little custom farther west.
I keep all love for high-roads for those times (rare indeed) when I go a-wheel on cycles; it is better to fare by lanes and by-ways when you go afoot, and then to please yourself as to your route, caring little for a consistent line of march: consistency is the bugbear of little minds. So swayed by impulse and circumstances were we, that I should indeed fear to set about the computation of mileage in this our journey from East to West: for our somewhat involved course, your attention, dear reader, is invited to the map.
We packed our knapsacks overnight, and the next morning
we had taken a hansom from Paddington, bound for Westminster Bridge, thence to voyage by steamer to Richmond.
Set down at Westminster Pier, we waited for the Richmond boat, while the growls and grumblings of the streets sounded loudly from the Bridge overhead, and mingled with the hoarse thunder of trains crossing the abominable squat cylinders and giant trellis-work that go to make the railway-bridge of Charing Cross.
I am not going to weary you with a description of how we slowly paddled up stream in the5 Richmond boat, past the Houses of Parliament on one hand, and Lambeth Palace and Doulton’s on the other; under Vauxhall and other London bridges, into suburban reaches, the shoals of Kew, and past the dirty town of Brentford (noted for possessing the ugliest parish church in all England), until at length we came off the boat at Richmond town. No: if I were to commence with this I know not where I should stop, and so, perhaps, the best way to treat the voyage would be by a masterly display of “reserved force.” Assume, then, that we are at length (for this steamboat journey is an affair of considerable time though few miles)—at length arrived at Richmond.
What semi-suburb so pleasant as Richmond, quite unspoilable, though jerry-buildings and shoddy hotels conspire to oust its old-world air; though the Terrace elms are doomed; though on Saturdays and Sundays of summer, Halberts and Arrys, Halices and Hemmers, crowd George Street, and shout and sing and exchange hats, and row upon the river, where, from the bridge, you may see them waving their sculls windmill fashion, and colliding, one boat with another, so that, their little hour upon the water being finished, the boatowners levy extra charges for scraped paint and broken scull-blades.
How many towns or neighbourhoods can show such courtly concourse of old: kings and queens, statesmen, nobles, poets, and wits? Palaces so many and various have been builded here, that the historian’s brain reels with the reading of them: eulogistic verse, blank and rhymed, has been written by the yard, on place and people, chiefly by eighteenth century poets, who then thronged the banks of Thames and constituted themselves, virtually, a Mutual Admiration Society. Thomson wrote and died here; near by, Gay, protected by a Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, lapped milk, wrote metrical fables, grew sleek, and presently died; Cowley, Pope, and a host of others contributed to the flood of verse, commonly in such journalistic tricklings as these:—
Literary ladies, and blue-stockings too, have thronged Richmond, and to this day there stands on the Green a row of charming old houses, fronted with gardens and decaying wrought-iron gates, called Maid of Honour Row, where were lodged such maids of rank whom interest or favour could admit to that honoured, though hard-worked and thankless guild. Madame D’Arblay, who, as Fanny Burney, was a domestic martyr to the royal household, has shown us how empty was the title and painful the place of “Maid of Honour.”
But despite royal associations, perhaps, indeed, on account of them, the Richmond of to-day is Radical: it has been distinguished, or notorious, for its Radical tradesmen any time these last hundred and forty years, from the time when the institution of “Tea and shrimps, 9d.” may be said to date. Tea, by itself, is not distinctly Radical, but I confess I see the germs of Republicanism in shrimps, and I should not be surprised at hearing of red-capped revolts originating at any of those places—Herne Bay, Margate, Ramsgate, Greenwich, Gravesend, Kew, and Richmond, where the shrimp is (so to speak) rampant.
Time was, indeed, when a “dish of tea” was distinctly exclusive and aristocratic: it has been, with the constant reductions of duty, rendered less and8 less respectable. The first step in its downward career was taken when the “dish” was substituted for the “cup,” and its final degradation is reached in the company of the unholy shrimp. The “cup of coffee and two slices” of the early morning coffee-stall is vulgar, but seems not to sound the depths of the other institution.
Let Chancellors of the Exchequer be warned ere it is yet too late; with the disappearance of the last halfpenny of the duty upon tea will come the final crash. Tea and shrimps will be obtainable for sixpence, and monarchy will no longer rule the land; perchance Chancellors of the Exchequer themselves will be obsolete and dishonoured officers of State. Perhaps, too, in some far distant period, Richmond will succeed in obtaining a water supply. Now she stands on one of the charmingest reaches of Thames, and yet, within constant sight of his silver flood, drinkable water is hardly come by in Richmond households. This is the penalty (or one of them) of popularity; the wells that were all-sufficient for Richmond of the past do not suffice for the population of to-day, which has gained her a charter of incorporation, and lost her an aristocratic prestige. The rateable value of Richmond must be very large indeed, but what does it avail when hundreds of thousands of pounds are continually being spent in fruitless borings for water? Richmond folk, nowadays, have all of them a species of hydrophobia, induced by a tax of too many pence in the pound for the water rate. Uneasy sits the Mayor, and the way of the Council is hard.
Thames, too, has been shockingly inclined to run dry at Richmond, so that there is building, even now, a lock that is to supersede that of Teddington in its present fame of largest and lowest on the river.
We looked into Richmond church and noted its many tablets to bygone actors and actresses, chief among them Edmund Kean, who died at the theatre here, so recently rebuilt. Then we hied to a restaurant and lunched, and partook (as in duty bound) of those cakes peculiar to the town. Then we set forth upon our walk.
To continue on the highroad that leads out of populous Richmond toward the “Star and Garter,” is to find one’s self presently surrounded with rustic sights and sounds altogether unexpected of the stranger in these gates. To take the lower road is to come directly into Petersham, wearing, even in these days, an air of retirement and a smack of the eighteenth century, despite its close neighbourhood to the Richmond of District Railways and suburban aspects.
The little church of Petersham is interesting despite (perhaps on account of) its bastard architecture10 and singular plan, but the feature that gives distinction is its cupola-covered bell turret, quaintly designed and louvre-boarded. The interior is small and cramped, and crowded with monuments. Among these the most interesting, so it seemed to us, was that to the memory of Captain George Vancouver, whose name is perpetuated in the christening of Vancouver Island.
Others of some note, very great personages in their day, but now half-forgotten, are buried in the churchyard and have weighty monuments within the church. Among these are an Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, a vice-admiral, a serjeant-at-law, Lauderdales, Tollemaches, and several dames and knights of high degree. Perhaps more interesting still, Mortimer Collins, author of, among other novels, that charming story, “Sweet and Twenty,” lies buried here.
And from here it is well within three miles to the little village of Ham, encircling, with its scattered cottages and mansions of stolid red brick of legitimate “Queen Anne” design, that common whose name has within the last two years been so familiar in the mouths of men. You may journey into the county’s depths and not find so quiet a spot as this out-of-the-world corner, nor one so altogether behind these bustling times. It has all the makings of the familiar type of an old English village, even to its princely manor-house. Ham House is magnificent indeed, and thereby hangs a tale.
Its occupiers have been for many generations the Earls of Dysart, whose family rose to noble rank by11 sufficiently curious means in the time of Charles I., an era when the peerage was reinforced by methods essentially romantic and irregular. Beauty (none too strictly strait-laced) secured titles for its bar-sinistered descendants in those times: in our own it is commonly Beer that performs the same kindly office.
The first Earl of Dysart had in his time fulfilled the painful post of “whipping-boy”—a species of human scapegoat—to his sacred Majesty, and by his stripes was his preferment earned.
I am told that it is not to be supposed this house and manor are the property of the Dysarts: they pay and have paid, time almost out of mind, an12 annual rent into the Court of Chancery for the benefit of the lost owners.
“But yet,” said my informant at Ham—the strenuous upholder of public rights in that notorious Ham Common prosecution,—“but yet, although this is their only local status, the Dysart Trustees have endeavoured, from time to time, to assume greater rights over Ham Common and public rights-of-way, than even might be claimed by the veritable lord of the manor.”
In the early part of 1891, the Trustees placed notice-boards at different points of the Common, setting forth the pains and penalties and nameless punishments that would be incurred by any who should cut turf or cart gravel, exceeding in this act (it seems) their rights, even had they possessed the title, for there is extant a deed executed by Charles I., in favour of the people of Ham, giving the Common to their use for ever.
Fortunately there was sufficient public spirit in Ham for the resisting of illegal encroachments, and eventually the notice-boards were sawn down by village Hampdens. Thereupon followed a prosecution at the instance of the Dysart Trustees, with the result that the defendants were all triumphantly acquitted.
It were indeed a pity had this, one of the largest and most beautiful commons near London, been gradually drawn within the control of family trustees. It is now a breezy open space of some seventy-eight acres, stretching away from Richmond Park to near Teddington, and pleasingly wild with gorse and sandpits and ancient elms.
13 Here, almost to where the Kingston road bisects the Common, the avenue leading to Ham House stretches its aisle of greenery, its length nearly half-a-mile. To pursue this walk to the wrought-iron gates of the House is to be assured of interest. Erected in the early years of the seventeenth century, it remains a splendid specimen of building ere yet the day of contracts had set in. The red-brick front faces toward the river, and includes a spacious courtyard in whose centre is placed a semi-recumbent stone figure of Thames with flowing urn. Along the whole extensive frontage of the House, placed in niches, runs a series of busts, cast in lead and painted to resemble stone—a quaint conceit.
But it is not only the splendour of design and execution that renders Ham House so interesting. It was, in the time of Charles II., a meeting-place of the notorious Cabal—that quintette of unscrupulous Ministers of State whose doings were a shame to their country. Here they plotted together, and under this roof the liberties of the lieges were schemed away. Those were stirring times at Ham. Now the place wears almost a deserted look. The courtyard is grass-grown between the joints of its paving, and it is many years since the massive iron gates enclosing the grounds were used. It seems to have been lonely and decayed, even in Horace Walpole’s time. He says, “Every minute I expected to see ghosts sweeping by—ghosts that I would not give sixpence to see—Lauderdales, Tollemaches, and Maitlands.” For my part I think I would give a great many sixpences not to see14 them, either by night or by day, whether or not they carried their heads in the place where heads should be, or under their arms, an exceedingly uncomfortable position, even for ghosts, one would think. I have not that horrid itching (which I suppose characterises the membership of the Psychical Research Society) for the society of wraiths and bogeys, and hold ghosts, apparitions, spooks, and spunkies of every kind in a holy horror.
Therefore, we presently departed hence, and came, in course of time, to Kingston. Whether or not Kingston can be identified as the place where Cæsar crossed the ford across the Thames in pursuit of Cassivelaunus and his cerulean-dyed hordes of Britons, our ancestors, is, I take it, of not much concern nowadays, although antiquaries of our fathers’ time made a great pother about the conflicting claims of Kingston and Coway Stakes, at Shepperton, to the honour, if honour it be, of affording passage to the victorious general and his legions. I like something of more human interest than these dry bones, and, I doubt not, you who endeavour to read these pages are of the same mind; so, to make your pilgrimage through this book the lighter, I think “we had better” do like Boffin, in the presence of Mrs. Boffin—that is, “drop the subject.”
But the subject to which we must come (for no one who writes upon Kingston can avoid it) is only one remove nearer. I refer to that bone of contention (excuse the confusion of ideas) the King’s Stone, now set up and railed round in Kingston market-place, and carven with the names of the seven15 Saxon kings crowned here. It is this stone which has caused many pretty controversies as to whether or not it confers the name upon the town, or whether or not the place was the King’s Town.
You may, doubtless, if you are greedy of information on these heads, find all conceivable arguments set forth in the pages of the Surrey Archæological Society’s Transactions. I confess my curiosity does not carry me to such lengths. The stone is there, and, like good tourists, we accepted as so much gospel the facts set forth on it, and cared nothing as to the etymology of Kingston. Instead, we busied ourselves in hiring a boat which should take us to Reading, a journey which we estimated of a week’s duration.
Geographers, physical and political, tell us that Thames drains and waters all that great district which lies between the estuary of the Severn and the seaward sides of Essex and Kent; that it is the fertiliser of square miles innumerable, and the potent source of London’s pre-eminent rank amongst the cities of the earth. This is all very true, but the geographers take no note of Thames’ other functions; the inspiration of the poets and the painters, the enrichment of innkeepers and boat-proprietors, and the pleasuring of all them that delight in bathing and the rowing of boats. Everywhere in summer-time are boats and16 launches and canoes, punts and houseboats, and varieties innumerable of floating things; for when the sun shines, and the incomparable river scenery of the Thames is at its best, the heart of man desireth nothing more ardently than to lie in a boat upon the quiet mirrored depths of a shady backwater, or better still, to sit within the roaring of the weir, where the swell of the tumbling water acts like a tonic upon the spirits, and the sunlight fashions rainbows in the smoke-like suspended moisture of its foam. These are modern pleasures. For centuries the Thames has flowed through a well-peopled country, yet the delights of the river are new-found, and only in the eighteenth century did the poets’ chorus break forth in flood of praise. But to-day every one who can string rhymes makes metrical essays upon the Thames, and writers without number have written countless books upon it. From Kingston to Oxford, houseboats make populous all its banks, and the quantity of paint and acres of canvas that have been expended upon artistic efforts along its course, from Trewsbury Mead to the Nore, must ever remain without computation.
For these reasons ’tis better to say little of our journey this afternoon to Shepperton, past Hampton Court, the Cockney’s paradise, to Hampton, Sunbury, Walton, and Halliford. The river was crowded with boating parties, with those who raced and with others who paddled lazily, and when night was come the houseboats hung out their paper lanterns, all red and yellow, that streaked every little ripple with waving colour.
17 That night saw the first unpacking of our knapsacks, and the irrevocable disappearance of their orderly arrangement. Chaos reigned ever afterward within their ostensibly waterproof sides, for to man is not given the gift of packing up, and we were not superior to the generality of our sex. I remember perfectly the shower of things that always befell o’ nights when I came to the ordeal of unpacking my knapsack: how razors, comb and brush, pencils, and neckties and other articles dropped from it; and, I make no doubt, it was the same with the other man.
Chertsey we passed this morning, heated with rowing, but between this and Laleham we were so far fortunate as to fall in with some acquaintances on a steam-launch who took us in tow so far as Old Windsor Lock, where we cast off and proceeded alone, landing at one of the many slips by Eton Bridge.
Windsor and Eton claimed us for the remainder of the day for the due pursuance of some desultory sight-seeing, but Eton chiefly, for the sake of its College, where “her Henry,” that unhappy pious founder, Henry VI., stands in effigy in the great quadrangle, and casts a “holy shade,” according to Grey.
The “College of the Blessed Mary of Eton beside Windsor” has numbered among its scholars a18 goodly proportion of our famous men; and many of their names, carved on the woodwork of the schools in their schoolboy days, remain to this day. On the doorway leading from the Upper School into that place of dread, the headmaster’s room, may be seen carved, in company with other well-known names, that of “W. E. Gladstone;” and once within that apartment, your attention is drawn to the block whereon many have suffered, in less heroic wise, and by no means so tragically, as the martyrs of Tower Hill, but perhaps more painfully, for birch twigs, with the buds on them, must sting dreadfully. But these things are become historical relics rather than engines of contemporary punishment: they belong to the days of the terrific Keate and his19 robustious predecessors, who were wont to regard the fortiter in re as more convincing and a better preservative of discipline than the suaviter in modo.
It seems that everywhere the iron gauntlet gives way to the kid glove in our times; persuasion is to-day more a mental than a physical process. There are relics in plenty at Windsor and Eton of those times, only at Windsor these things take higher ground: there for persuasion read diplomacy in this era, where it had used to be a performance requiring the assistance of axe and chaplain. The Castle survives, its mediæval defences restored, for appearance sake, but its State apartments filled with polite furniture, dreadfully gilded and (we thought) tawdry. It makes a picture, this historic warren of kings and princes, and its Round Tower commands a glorious view, altogether an imposing range of turrets, battlements, and loopholed walls; but, alas! Henry the Eighth’s massive gateway was guarded by a constable of that singularly unromantic body—the Police, and his presence there made everything save the gas-lamps and the shop-fronts of Windsor streets seem of paste-board fashion and unreal.
The river is the proper place from whence to view the Castle: the time, early morning; for then, when the mists cling about the water, and the meadows are damp with them, that palace and stronghold,21 that court and tomb of royalty bulks larger than at any other time, both on sight and mind.
Thus we thought, when the early hours of the morning found us afloat again. Boveney, Monkey Island, were passed, and now arose above all the trees, the tall poplars that identify Bray to the distant view more surely than church or anything contrived at the hands of man. They range in rows, and are at once formal and touched with a delightful note of distinction. The village, too, is of the quaintest, with almshouses that should make the poverty housed within them dignified with a dignity that we who live in London’s hutches of brick and mortar, and are numbered with a plebeian number, may never know.
And at this Bray (we are told) lived that weathercock vicar, who twirled with every political wind, and by his dexterity kept his benefice and earned immortality. O most sensible Vicar of Bray: wholly admirable and right reverend exponent of expediency!
When once the bend of the river just above Bray is reached there is an end, for the time, of beauty, for the reach runs straight, and on either bank the encroachments of villadom are forming a continuous frontage of houses on to Taplow and Maidenhead, and three parts of the way to Cookham. Taplow Railway Bridge, brick-built, with bricks of a jaundiced hue, straddles over the water in two strides, an unlovely bridge, but remarkable for the great span of its arches, and for their extreme depression. So flat are the two arches of Taplow22 Bridge, that it seems scarcely credible they can bear the weight of the heavy trains constantly crossing. Yet fifty years have passed, and still the constant traffic of the Great Western Railway passes unharmed.
Beyond Taplow comes Maidenhead, most favoured of riverside towns, and, at the far end of Maidenhead, Boulter’s Lock, the busiest on the river, filled from morn to eve of summer days with boats full of the smartest frocks and prettiest girls one would wish to see. No more charming sight than Boulter’s on a busy day, when the boats are going up stream to Clieveden and Cookham. Clieveden woods on the right hand, and Ray Mead level on the left,23 with the river between, green with the reflections of the trees, and splashed here and there with the bright-coloured blazers of the rowers, make a sight to be remembered.
We came late round the bend to Cookham Lock, and into Cookham village from the landing-place, as the moon rose in a cloudless sky.
This morning there was an indignant man to breakfast at Cookham. Nothing pleased the creature, and the crowded coffee-room was well advised of his discontent, for he took care to proclaim it to all and sundry. He had begun the morning badly, so it seemed, and was like to continue thus throughout the day. The birds began it by arousing him from sleep at dawn, and surely never had birds of any sort been so anathematised since the time of that famous jackdaw of Rheims. The rooks and crows, the sparrows and pigeons, that cawed and chattered and murmured with the coming of day in neighbouring elms and hedgerows, on roof-tops and in pigeon-cots, had awakened him and kept him counting the dawning hours, and that was why the toast, the tea, the eggs and the butter were all at fault to this man. He badgered the coffee-room waiter, who—poor fool!—respected him the more for it at the expense of the less contentious of the guests, and he plied all that waiter’s attention with a grumbling commentary, that went far to show him24 in the character of the fault-finder on principle. You see, that man who has a great capacity for indignation, with a voice of roaring and words of fury, is the man who gets on in this world. He who takes the world by the throat, and grips it hard and shakes it violently, and kicks it where honour is the more readily wounded, is the man who, at the end of the struggle, comes out “upper dog.” But the cultivation of the furious manner is a wearing cult, and besides, does not sit well on a man of little chest, small voice, and gentle eye. Other things, too, are wanting to a complete success. Let me put them all together, like Mrs. Glass, the historic, the well-beloved:—
Take a goodly presence, one pair of sound lungs, some original sin, and a small pinch of merit. Throw them all into your avocation, and, adding some impudence to taste, let the whole boil vigorously until public attention is attracted. Then serve up hot.1
Possibly that reader of a frankness so unmistakable, who annotates the margins of books from his Mudie (or even, goodness knows! from his Public Library), may disagree with these views, and fill these fair margins with criticisms of this view of life; but (a word in your ear, my friend) consider awhile, the view is sound.
This by the way. Excuse, if you please, the digression.
At Cookham we were bitten with a fancy for taking our meals al fresco, so when the time came25 for departure, imagine us stowing away into what I suppose are called the “stern sheets” of our boat sufficient provender for the day. There was a loaf and a pot of raspberry jam, some butter and a tin of some sort of meat. A couple of plates furnished us luxuriantly in the crockery department, and as for a table-knife, why, we forgot all about it, and when, in a quiet backwater, the time came for luncheon, we did our little best, which indeed was little enough, with a pocket-knife.
That meal was a gruesome orgie. Try to cut a new loaf with a pocket-knife, and you will find it much better to tear your bread straight away without further ado, a discovery we presently made; but don’t try to open a tin with such a knife, as you value your cutlery. This from experience, which we gained at the expense of a broken blade. Eventually we burst the tin open by stamping on it, and then the Wreck scooped out some of the contents26 with a piece of stick, as clean as might be, but still scarcely the ideal substitute for a knife. With this we spread the lumps of bread, and ate precariously. It should be said that the plates had already come to grief, and their fragments were now reposing in the river bed. For dessert we dipped the bread into the jam-pot, and thus circumvented the necessity for spoons.
This was at Hurley, after we had passed beautiful Marlow and Bisham, where the ghost of Lady Hoby walks in the abbey, and before we had come to Medmenham.
Here the notorious Medmenham Abbey stands by the waterside, where the river winds and rushes grow thick, and a lovely view it makes, close-hemmed27 with tall trees, the hills rising in the background and the level meads spreading out, emerald green, in front.
They tell us—those unkind topographers—that the picturesque ruins of the Abbey are a sham; that possibly one single pillar may be a genuine relic of the old religious house that once stood here, but that the arcading, the Tudor windows and the ivy-covered tower, are “ruins” deliberately built. Perhaps they are, but, even so, they are excellent, and those purists are not to be thanked for setting us right, where we might gladly have erred.
They would, too, assuage by exact inquiry the28 romantic legends of the Hell Fire Club, those “Monks of St. Francis,” as Wilkes and his jolly companions who rioted here were pleased to call themselves. Their horrid rites, their orgies and debauchery, the license of the place, typified by their motto, still extant, “Fay ce que voudras,” are, perhaps, better “taken as read.”
We crept up stream against a swift current, and between heavy rain showers that soaked us and diluted the remains of our picnic to a revolting mess: bread and water, tinned meat and raspberry jam, both sufficiently saturated, are not appetising items. It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say there was more jam on the seats and our clothes than in its native pot, but this was at least an open question.
At Hambledon, the lock-keeper let us through in a pelting shower, which ceased directly we were freed from the unsheltered imprisonment of the lock. Have you ever noticed how wet the river looks after rain? how much more watery the water appears? Thus looked Henley Reach as we rowed up it this evening, past that singular eyot called Regatta Island.
Regatta Island is scarcely a place of beauty. There is a brick and plaster pseudo-temple affair on it that records the most strenuous days of the classic29 fallacy, when eighteenth-century poets peopled the country side and the river banks with preposterous naiads and other galvanised reproductions of the beautiful and mystic mythology of the ancients. Alas! this is not Arcadia: Great Pan is dead long since, and his nymphs have danced away to an enduring Götterdämmerung. It is well it should be so, for had Pan survived he would have hidden his hairy legs with check trousers, and changed his “woodnotes wild” for the democratic strains of the concertina. In these days of prim and proper County Councils, whose internal rottenness is varnished over with a shiny varnish of prudery, such improper creatures are impossible. This is an age when everything must be properly breeched or sufficiently skirted, and, though the constitution of our Councils be revolutionary, a revolution sans culottes could not hope to win their approval.
A poignant individual, whose melancholy look touched time and place to a deeper pathos, stood by the water’s side, and vulgarised that shoddy temple with an air of one who had drunk too much beer, and was in the lachrymose stage.
We passed him by with flashing sculls that sent the watery shadows dancing madly in our wake, and crept up the quiet30 reach, past the poetically-named Phillis Court; the Wren-built bulk of Fawley; modern-built, yet historical Greenlands, residence of the late Mr. W. H. Smith, that unromantic but sufficiently strenuous upholder of “duty to Queen and country,” and presently came off the slip where many boats lay moored. Henley was quiet enough, not to say dull. Except when the midsummer madness of the Regatta sets all the riverside agog, and sends even garret lodgings up to fabulous prices, the broad stony streets of the town loom blankly to the stranger. The great church of Henley, whose tower, picturesquely turreted, shows to greater advantage at a distance, is of equally generous proportions. It is scarcely interesting, but there is in the graveyard a tomb of a sombre and darkling interest. Here lies, beside her father and mother, Mary Blandy, who, at the time of her trial and execution, was probably the most notorious person within the compass of these islands. The daughter of Mr. Francis Blandy, an attorney-at-law, who in 1750 lived in Henley town, close by the Angel Inn, she became acquainted with a Captain Cranston, who, being in charge of a recruiting party stationed here, was received into the society of the place. Now, Mr. Blandy was a widower, and dotingly fond of his daughter, his only child. Being a rich man as times went, he was anxious to secure for her a footing in county society, then more difficult of access than now. To this end he caused it to be understood that his Molly would have £10,000 by way of dowry, and the prospect of securing this large sum led the captain, who was a married man,31 to pretend love for her. Although he sprang from an old Scots family, Cranston was a man of extremely dissolute and evil character, and the lawyer, although he knew little or nothing of this, and nothing of the wife in Scotland, disliked and distrusted him, and forbade the engagement into which he and his daughter had entered.
However, Mary Blandy was so infatuated with the man, and so influenced by him, that, to get rid of her father, and to obtain at once both husband and her dowry, she set in train a scheme of slow poisoning that for heartlessness rivals Brinvilliers herself. In November 1750, she began to poison her father, under the instructions of Cranston, who, returning to Scotland, had sent her some pebbles, and powders ostensibly to clean them withal. The powders were composed of arsenic, and were administered in her father’s tea. By March of the following year the poison had its effect in causing her father’s teeth to drop out, whereupon this exceptional daughter “damned him for a toothless old rogue and wished him at hell.”
Several times the servants were nearly killed by having accidentally drunk of the tea prepared for the master of the house, and on each occasion this extraordinary woman nursed them back to health with the tenderest solicitude. At length their suspicions were sufficiently aroused to inform Mr. Blandy secretly. He told his daughter that he suspected he was being poisoned. She confessed to him, and he, incredible as it may appear, forgave her, with admonitions to amend her life, and, above all, to conceal everything,32 saying, “Poor girl, what will not a love-sick woman do for the man she loves!”
He died the next day, and Mary Blandy escaped the same night from the house, after having vainly attempted to bribe the servants to smuggle her off to London in a post-chaise. Half-way across Henley Bridge she was discovered, and would have been lynched by the inhabitants had she not taken shelter within the Angel Inn, where she was promptly arrested. Taken thence to Oxford, she was tried, found guilty, and condemned to death on the 29th February 1752. She was executed on the 6th April, begging not to be hanged high, “for the sake of decency.”
She asserted her innocence to the last, saying Cranston had told her the powders would do her father no harm. The same mob that had hunted her to the doors of the “Angel,” attended her body from the scene of execution at Oxford Castle, regarding her as a saint. She was buried here in a coffin lined with white satin. Cranston, it is scarcely necessary to add, fled the country.
This slow poisoner, if painter and mezzotinter lie not who have handed down her portraiture to our times, was peculiarly beautiful, with an eighteenth-century grace, a swan neck, and a sweetness of expression that, if any truth there be in views that take the face as index to the mind, would seem to shadow forth nothing but virtues minor and major.
At the “Red Lion” by the bridge we supped and slept, possibly attracted to this particular hostelry by Shenstone’s famous lines—
Boating men comprised almost the whole of the company at the Red Lion, and the talk was solely aquatic, dealing with races—past, present, and to come—with sculls and sliding-seats, and all the minutiæ of water pastimes.
This morning we rowed through Marsh Lock, struggled through the mazes, snags, and shallows of Hennerton Backwater, and lazed in the sunshine34 at Wargrave, that picturesque beach and village set over against the flat green meadows of the Oxfordshire bank. Then (for the spirit of exploration grew strong again) we laboriously shoved, rather than rowed, our craft through the esoteric windings of the Loddon River and Patricksbourne, arriving some hours later on the hither side of Shiplake Lock, with the unexpected satisfaction of having thus saved some pence from the clutch of the Thames Conservancy.
At the Bull at Sonning we dined in a parlour gay with geraniums, with windows shaded by vines and creepers, with old-fashioned fire-place surmounted by a huge stuffed fish—a typical river-side inn—and thereafter rowed up from Sonning to Reading, where, by the filthy Kennet side, we left our boat for return to its owner, in the usual Thames-side practice.
We came to Reading prepared for anything but35 charm in that town of biscuits, and we were not inclined to alter our ready-made opinion upon sight of it. We passed through “double-quick,” leaving the last of the town as late as 8.30. He who runs may read, perhaps, if the type be sufficiently large; but I don’t think he would find it possible to write: we did not, and so this book must go forth lacking a description of Reading.
The train that carried us from this town of almost metropolitan savour jogged along in most leisurely fashion past Mortimer Stratfield, and finally brought up at Basingstoke, where we went to bed with what haste we might.
And so we came into Hampshire. A weary county this, for those who know not where to seek its beauties—a county of flint-bestrewn roads, a county, too, of unconscionable distances and sad, lonely, rolling downs. Hampshire, indeed, seems ever attuned to memories in a minor key. It is, possibly, but a matter of individual temperament, but so it seems that this county of pine woods and bleak hills—bare, save for some crowning clump of eerie trees, whose branches continually whisper in sobbing breezes—shall always restrain your boisterous spirits, however bright the day, with a sense of foreboding. How much more, then, shall you be impressed of eventide, should you be still abroad, to see how weirdly the sun goes down36 behind those hill-tops, which then grow black beside his dying glory, while the water-meadows below grow blurred and indistinct, as the night mists rise in ghostly swirls. These thoughts can never find adequate expression, charged as they are with a latent superstition which, despite the lapse of centuries, lingers yet, perhaps unreasonably.
Such are the emotions conjured up by Nature in Hampshire. You may test their force readily at sundown, outside Winchester, when the huge mass of St. Catherine’s Hill looms awfully above the water-meadows of the Itchen, etched in deepest black upon the radiant evening sky. Gazing thus, and presently possessed of a fine thrill of superstitious dread, or artistic admiration—what you will—you may turn and encounter, full to the gaze, the twinkling lamps of the City—prosaic indeed.
But we anticipate, as the artless novelist of another generation was used to remark, with a painful frequency. Before Winchester, Basingstoke. This morning, we took an early walk to Sherborne St. John, an outlying village, now suburban to37 Basingstoke, a village, as it proved, uninteresting. The church, as was to be expected at 8 a.m., was locked: our only reminiscence of the place, then, is this problematic inscription from the doorway. Returning, we made a nearer acquaintance with that ruined chapel—the chapel of the Holy Ghost—familiar to all travellers by the South-Western Railway, standing as it does beside the Station. Here was established the lay Fraternity of the Holy Ghost, founded at that late period when Gothic architecture began to feel the influence of the Renaissance. The mixed details are very interesting, though, unfortunately, much mutilated. Gilbert White, the historian of Selborne, says he was, when38 a schoolboy, “eye-witness, perhaps a party concerned”—observe the grace of later years that made him ashamed of the occasion, and willing to doubt his participance—“in the undermining a vast portion of that fine old ruin at the north end of Basingstoke town.” The motive for this destruction (he says) does not appear, save that boys love to destroy what men venerate and admire; the more danger the more honour, and the notion of doing some mischief gave a zest to the enterprise.
The Chapel stands within the cemetery known locally as the Liten. Within its walls are two mutilated effigies on altar-tombs, the sole remains of a building long preceding the present ruin, hacked and carven with many penknives.
Modern Basingstoke—“name of hidden and subtle meaning,” as Mr. Gilbert says in “Ruddigore”—is prosperous, cheerful with the ruddy mellowness of red-brick, and loyal with a lofty Jubilee belfry-tower to its Town Hall; and that is all the spirit moves me to set down here of the town.
No more dreary road than that sixteen miles between Basingstoke and Winchester; a road that goes in a remorseless straight line through insignificant scenery, passing never a village for twelve39 or more weary miles, a road upon which every turning leads to Micheldever. Sign-posts one and all conspire to lead you thither, with an unanimity perfectly surprising. We made certain that something entirely out of the common run was to be found at that place of the peculiar name, and so we were ill enough advised to visit it by turning aside for the matter of a mile.
And yet, when we were arrived at the place, there was nothing to be seen; nay, worse than that indeed: there is a church at Micheldever whose architectural enormities would make any sane ecclesiologist flee the neighbourhood on the instant. Of the scenery, I will remark only that the village is overhung with funereal pines and firs, a setting that depresses beyond the power of words to express.
We retraced our steps toward the high road to Winchester, with anathemas upon those sign-posts, varied by a consideration of Hampshire as a county prolific in what Mr. Gilbert calls, “that curious anomaly”—the lady novelist. For, look you, at Micheldever resides Mrs. Mona Caird, the heroine of the “Marriage a Failure” correspondence, and the authoress of the “Wing of Azrael”; and Sparkford, Haslemere, and the New Forest shelter respectively, Miss Yonge, Mrs. Humphry Ward, and Miss Braddon; others, doubtless, there be within these gates who help to swell the output of the familiar three volumes, for almost every woman of leisure and scribbling propensities writes romances nowadays. Hampshire, indeed, seems decidedly a40 literary county, for Tennyson and Tyndall and Kingsley (Keble, too) have lived and worked within its borders.
For the next five miles we passed, I think, but one house, Lunways Inn, and then came upon modified civilisation in the shape of the village of King’s Worthy. There is quite a cluster of villages here with the generic name of Worthy, with prefixes by which we can generally identify the old-time lords of the respective manors. There are beside King’s Worthy, Abbot’s Worthy, Martyr Worthy, and Headbourne Worthy, “Headbourne,” conjecturally from the brook that rises by the village churchyard. This village lies on the road to Winchester, directly after King’s Worthy is passed, and is about a mile and a half from the city.
The church is interesting for itself, but it contains a charming little monumental brass to a Winchester scholar that alone is worth journeying to see, both from its unique character and by reason of its technical excellence. It was formerly let into the flooring of the chancel, and was in danger of being trampled out of recognition, until the vicar caused it to be fixed on the north wall of the church, where it now remains.
The brass consists of the kneeling figure of a boy in the act of prayer, habited in the time-honoured Winchester College gown, of the same pattern, with slight modifications, as that worn to-day. He wears, suspended from his collar, a badge, probably that of a patron saint; his hair is short, and exhibits the small first tonsure customarily performed on scholars41 upon completing their first year. A scroll issuing from his mouth is inscribed “Misericordias dni inetnū cantabo”—The mercies of the Lord I will sing for ever. The curiously contracted Latin of the inscription beneath is, Englished, “Here lies John Kent, sometime scholar of the New College of Winchester, son of Simon Kent of Reading, whose soul God pardon.”
It is supposed that he was removed to Headbourne from the College by his parents, to escape an epidemic prevalent there in the year of his death, 1434, when several other scholars died. The “College Register” records the death of John Kent: “Johēs Kent de Redyng de eadem com. adm. XXIII. die August obiit ulto die Augusti anno Regni Reg. H. VI. XIII.”
Within the space of another half-hour we had reached the city and discovered an hostelry after our own heart. We remained three whole days at Winchester.
The ancient capital of all England lies in the quiet valley of the River Itchen, a small stream which, some twelve miles lower down, empties into Southampton Water. The naïve remark of the schoolboy upon the “coincidence” of great cities always being situated upon the banks of large rivers did not, when Winchester was the metropolis, have any application here, but in the light of subsequent42 history it may show the reason of the city’s decadence.
From the earliest times Winchester was a city of importance; Briton and Roman, Saxon, Dane, and Norman alike made it a place of strength. Under Cerdic, first king of the West Saxons, the city became the capital of that kingdom, and at the dissolution of the Heptarchy, capital of united England.
But it was under the rule of the early Plantagenet kings that Winchester attained the zenith of its prosperity as the seat of government and as a centre of the woollen trade. Now the court has departed, and the manufacture utterly died out; but Winchester is a prosperous city still—gay with the rubrical gaiety of a cathedral city—the centre of an agricultural district, and the capital of a diocese.
Of feudal Winchester much has been destroyed; but from the remains of its two great castles, and of the city gates and walls, one may conjure up the city of the two first Norman kings, held under stern repressive rule, when despotic power lay in the hands of alien king and noble. Then the New Forest lying near was a newly created desolation; and the country-side, now dotted with villages, a sparsely settled tract. And even in the city itself there were long hours when all was silent and lonely; for when the curfew rang out, who dared to disobey its warning note? Then the city was given up to darkness, the watchmen at the closed and guarded gates, and the sentinels pacing the walls; for though, mayhap, there were no danger threatening from without,43 it must perchance be watched for and combated from within.
The curfew bell has been sentimentally revived, and tolling nightly from the old Guildhall, awakens dim vistas of social history. The custom has, of course, lost all its harsh significance, but it is one not lost upon him who cares for tradition in an age that makes for novelty; when vaunting soaps affront the eye of the wayfarer in their garish advertisements, and the voice of the touter (commercial, social, political,44 and religious) is heard in the land crying new lamps (of the sorriest) for old.
But the word “lamps” reminds me that Winchester public lamps have long been lighted with oil, for the Corporation and the Gas Company have agreed to differ; so, pending wiser counsel in the Company’s ranks, the City Fathers, good souls, put back the clock of social history some sixty years by re-adopting paraffin as an illuminant.
Thus local history wags at Winchester, with but few excitements, and those magnified to things of greatest import, by reason of their rarity.
To attempt to give here the briefest outline of Winchester’s long and stirring story were indeed vain; but a succinct account of its Cathedral may be of interest, as therein lies in these days most of the charm of the place. It is an epitome of architectural history unsurpassed in England.
One might, as a stranger, wander through the city for some while without finding the Cathedral, and then, perhaps, be compelled to inquire the way, for it is not possessed of soaring spire nor lofty towers, to guide the pilgrim from afar.
The first impression one gets of the building is of its great length: it is, indeed, the longest cathedral in England. The exterior, seen from the north-west corner of the close, is, perhaps, disappointing, with its long, unbroken, roof-line and low central tower, showing an almost entire absence of that picturesque grouping which is the charm of many others. But Winchester Cathedral has an interior equalling, if not surpassing, all others in beauty and interest.
45 The present cathedral is not the first nor second building of its kind erected here. Even before the Christian era its site held buildings devoted to worship; for the old chroniclers, the monks, to whom we owe most of our early history, have stated that the temple to Dagon stood on this spot.
Up to the time of the Norman Conquest the history of the Cathedral is one long account of building, destruction, and rebuilding—for those were troublous46 times, and religious institutions fared no better than secular.
Walkelin, the first Bishop of Winchester after the Conquest, was appointed in 1070. In the year 1079 he began to rebuild the existing Saxon cathedral from its foundations; and in 1086, the king, for its completion granted him as much wood from a certain forest as his workmen could cut and carry in the space of four days and nights. But the wily bishop brought together an innumerable troop of workmen who, within the prescribed time, felled the entire wood and carried it off. For this piece of sharp practice Walkelin had to humbly implore pardon of the enraged William.
In 1093 the new building was completed, and was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul.
The Cathedral is now (or, at least, part of it is) dedicated to Saint Swithun. Now, Swithun was a holy man who died in the odour of sanctity and the Saxon era. He was Bishop of Winchester, but lowly minded indeed, for he desired his body to be buried without the building, under the eaves, where the rain might always drip upon his grave; but disregarding the spirit of the saint’s injunctions, the monks “howked” his corpse up again, after first complying with the letter of them by burying him for awhile in the cathedral yard. They proposed to enshrine the body within the Cathedral, but the saint, who had apparently obtained in the meantime an appointment as a sort of celestial turncock, brought about a continuous rainfall of forty days and nights. After this manifestation, the monks concluded to47 leave Swithun alone, and he lies in the close to this day. Unfortunately, the saint seems to have ever after made an annual commemoration of the event, commencing with July 15th. This would be a comparatively small matter did he confine himself to that period alone; but unlike the gyrating turncocks of our water companies, he is constantly on duty, more particularly when holiday folk most do fare abroad. Perhaps Swithun is offended at his name being so continually spelled wrongly—Swithin: perhaps—but, no matter. Anyhow, he is more addicted to water than (if all tales be true) holy friars were wont to be, either for external or inward application. What does Ingoldsby say of one typical friar—I quote from memory (a shocking habit):—
But no more frivolity: let us, pray, be serious.
Of Walkelin’s building we have preserved to us unaltered the transepts, tower, crypt, and exterior of the south aisle. The plan, like that of most Norman cathedrals, was cruciform, with an apsidal east end. This plan remains almost the same; but the apse has disappeared, and in its place we have the usual termination, with the addition of a thirteenth century Lady Chapel.
The tower, low and yet so massive, has a curious history. In the year 1110, William, the Red King, was killed in the New Forest, slain by the arrow of Walter Tyrrell. It is a familiar tale in history, how the body of the feared and hated king was carried to Winchester in a cart and buried in the choir, beneath the tower, mourned by none. Seven years later the tower fell in utter ruin, because, according to popular superstition, one had been buried there who had not received the last rites of the Church. The tower was rebuilt in its present form, and the result of the fall may be seen in the massive piers which now support it. The tomb of Rufus is here, covered with a slab of Purbeck marble, without inscription.
The first alteration to the plan of the Norman cathedral was made by De Lucy, commencing in49 1202. His work may be seen in part of the Lady Chapel and in the retrochoir. The Norman choir was taken down by Edingdon, and replaced by him in the transitional style from Decorated to Perpendicular. But the greatest feat was the transformation of the Norman nave into one of the Perpendicular style. This was carried out by William of Wykeham, one of the greatest architects our country can boast. Succeeding Bishop Edingdon in 1367, he carried on the alteration of the nave which the late bishop had but begun.
What makes this work the more remarkable is that the Norman walls were not removed; the ashlar facing was stripped off them and replaced by masonry designed in the prevailing style.
Wykeham did not live to complete this his greatest work; but his will, still extant, gives instructions to that end. The good bishop died in 1404, and was buried in the chantry chapel he had had prepared in that portion of the Cathedral corresponding to the pierced side of the Saviour. Here a beautiful and elaborate altar tomb stands, bearing his effigy, habited in the bishop’s robes, with mitre and crozier. Angels support the head, and at the feet are figures of monks praying, while the bishop’s arms and his motto, “Manners makyth Man,” are shown below, with the arms of the See of Winchester.
The character of Wykeham shines out from the age in which he lived with great brilliancy. The statesman, prelate, and architect were united in him with a far-seeing benevolence surprising in those times. His foundations of Winchester College and50 New College, Oxford, have served as models for all the great public schools subsequently founded.
One of the most curious features of the Cathedral is the series of mortuary chests placed above the choir screens, and containing the bones of saints, bishops, and royal personages mixed indiscriminately. These chests were placed here by Bishop Fox on the completion of the screens, and are six in number, of wood, carved and painted in the Renaissance style, just then appearing in this country. The names of the persons whose bones are deposited in them appear on the sides, and amongst them are Canute, Egbert, Alwyn, and Edmund Ironside.
With the placing of the present side screens of the choir the architectural history of the Cathedral is practically ended.
The taste of the seventeenth century is, however, shown in the erection by Inigo Jones of an anachronism in the shape of a classic screen to the choir, which is now happily removed. Its fragments, piled up in remote corners and forgotten, may be seen by the curious who wander in the dim and dusty passages of the tower and transepts.
The Cathedral contains a long and splendid series of chantry chapels of surpassing beauty, commencing with Edingdon’s and ending with Gardiner’s. Of these and of the many beauties of detail to be seen, this short sketch cannot treat; but before leaving the building, one may notice a singularly beautiful memorial to Bishop Ethelmar, who died in 1261, and whose heart only is buried here, his body lying in51 Paris. He is represented in ecclesiastical vestments, and holds his heart in his hands.
Ethelmar, or Aymer de Lusignan, or Ethelmar de Valence, a half-brother of Henry the Third, was forced into the bishop’s throne against the will of the monks. He became bishop in 1249, but was eventually, through his rapacity, banished the kingdom, and forced to flee for France.
But the history of Winchester Cathedral shows many stirring episodes, foremost among them being that story, dim with the lapse of ages, in which Queen Emma, mother of Edward the Confessor, is said to have undergone the terrible ordeal of walking barefooted over red-hot ploughshares, and to have emerged from it unscathed. Then there is told also the shameful tale of how the miserable John, terrified by the fulminations of the Pope, did homage before the high altar to the papal legate for his kingdom. In later ages, Queen Mary and Philip of Spain were married here, and there is still shown the chair in which the queen sat on that occasion.
In the days of the Puritans, the Cathedral, in common with most other ecclesiastical edifices, suffered much, the stained and painted glass adorning the windows being almost entirely wrecked. But reverent hands collected the shattered fragments, and at the Restoration placed them in the great west window, where they are still, presenting a most perplexing combination of haphazard odds and ends of design.
Of the two great castles formerly standing in the city, but few fragments now remain. The royal52 castle, built by Henry III., was situated near West Gate. It was destroyed by Cromwell in his “slighting” process, by which so many fine specimens of military architecture were reduced to ashes.
Here, in 1603, the noble but unfortunate Raleigh was arraigned for high treason, and, notwithstanding his undoubted innocence, was found guilty and cast into the Tower, where he dragged out an existence of nearly thirteen weary years before the cupidity of James I. set him free, on a cruise to the New World, in search of a fabulous gold mine. The hall is the only remaining portion of the castle. It is now used as a court for transacting county business, and contains the famed Round Table.
West Gate adjoins Castle Hill. It is of thirteenth century date, with massive and frowning aspect, its53 machicolations overhanging the central arch, from which molten lead and other unpleasant missiles were launched upon besiegers.
The Bishop’s castle of Wolvesey is in ruins at the other end of the city; and amid the shattered, ivy-clad walls of that Norman stronghold, rises the seventeenth-century palace, built by Bishop Morley, and deserted long ago by his successors, who have retired to Farnham Castle, there to enjoy what state the rolling centuries have left the dignified clergy.
Of all days, Saturday is here the busiest. On others, the High Street is not distracted with commerce, but dozes continually in summer shine and winter snows, with the mediæval West Gate at one end of the steep roadway, and the Gothic City Cross midway between east and west, to give something of historic perspective even to the most unheeding eye. The Corporation of Winchester, at the beginning of the century, had neither taste for, nor admiration of, Gothic art, for about that time they sold the Cross, and it would have been duly carried off to adorn a neighbouring park, had not the citizens (who had a right appreciation of that relic of antiquity) interfered, and, with some violence, dispersed the workmen, who had commenced operations for removing it.
Winchester City is (excuse the clashing nomenclature) a garrison town and a military depôt. On the West Hill, in that prophetically barrack-like shell of a palace, begun but never finished by Charles II., the military have their habitation, and the red-coats (as the generalising writer might say) make lively the pavements of the High Street. But,54 seeing that the King’s Royal Rifles usually form the garrison, and that their tunics are dark green, almost black, it would be difficult to say where that lively feast of colour comes in. This is not to say that the Winchester Tommy is a sombre person, apart from his clothing. Not at all: the King’s Royal Rifles are youthful—mere striplings most of them; little men, not to say undersized, and full of spirit, as you shall see on Saturday evenings, when (if ever) Winchester is lively.
It is strange how little mark Winchester College makes on Winchester City. It lies away from the more frequented parts, to the southern outskirts—giving upon the juicy water-meadows of the River Itchen. At Eton, at Rugby, at Harrow you note immediately the scholars; at Winchester they are not so frequently met with beyond the walls of their55 old foundation that this year celebrates its five hundredth anniversary. Additions have been made to the old buildings, but practically the plan of the College remains the same as when it was inaugurated in 1394, and the place is full of old customs and curious survivals.
From here we climbed to the summit of Saint Catherine’s Hill, and viewed the city beneath. Up here is the curious maze cut in the turf (tradition says) by a Winchester scholar, compelled for punishment to forego his holidays and stay instead with Alma Mater. “Dulce Domum,” the well-known Winchester College chant, is ascribed to him.
We left Winchester regretfully one fine morning, going through West Gate and the suburb of Fulflood to the Stockbridge Road. “From the western gate aforesaid,” to quote Thomas Hardy’s conclusion to “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” “as every Winton-cestrian knows, ascends a long and regular incline of the exact length of a measured mile, leaving the houses gradually behind.... The prospect from this summit was almost unlimited. In the valley beneath lay the city, its more prominent buildings showing as in an isometric drawing—among them the broad Cathedral tower, with its Norman windows and immense length of aisle and nave, the spires of Saint Thomas’s, the pinnacled tower of the College, and, more to the right, the tower and gables of the ancient hospice, where to this day the pilgrim may receive his dole of bread and ale. Behind the city swept the rotund upland of St. Catherine’s Hill; further off, landscape beyond landscape, till the horizon was lost in the radiance of the sun hanging above it. Against these far stretches of country rose, in front of the other city edifices, a large red brick building, with level grey roofs, and rows of short, barred windows bespeaking captivity, the whole contrasting greatly by its formalism with the quaint irregularities of the Gothic erections.... From the middle of the building an ugly flat-topped octagonal tower ascended against the east horizon, and viewed from this spot, on its shady side and against the light, it seemed the one blot on the city’s beauty.”
57 From here Angel Clare and ‘Liza-Lu beheld the black flag announce to the city that justice had been done upon Tess: “The two speechless gazers bent themselves to earth, as if in prayer, and remained thus a long time, absolutely motionless: the flag continued to wave silently. As soon as they had strength they arose, joined hands again, and went on.”
And so, to my mind, the Stockbridge road shall be ever haunted with these two mourners who thus disappear into the void; and Roebuck Hill has acquired a literary interest that transfigures an eminence of no particular elevation, and of a certain air of suburban propriety, into a hill of sorrow. It commands Winchester Gaol, whose sordid dramas are, by the reading of that moving tale, touched with a saving tincture of romance.
Presently we came to the little village of Wyke, now more frequently called Weeke, a scattered collection of cottages, horse-pond, and tiny church at the foot of another gentle hill. Not a soul was there to be seen in Wyke. The churchyard gate was open, and also the door of the church, a building consisting of nave and chancel only, with shingled, extinguisher-like spirelet, and Norman south porch. But a mural brass, directly opposite the door, drew our attention. On examination it proved as interesting as that little effigy at Headbourne Worthy, although of entirely different character. It is monumental, in a sense, as its inscription commemorates a benefactor of the church and his wife, but the figure above is not, as usual, a portrait effigy, but,58 instead, a representation of Saint Christopher, shown in the act of carrying the infant Saviour across a river. The figure is only a few inches high, but carefully engraved, in 1498, a period shortly before the decadence of this ancient art began; it is, moreover, unique. Although the figure of Saint Christopher, that giant of the pretty mediæval legend, was generally to be found in fresco upon the walls of ancient churches, and was the subject of one of the earliest wood-blocks, no other brass than this is known where his striking figure is to be seen.
It is an open road, exposed and unshaded by trees, that leads from Wyke, up Harestock Hill, along the Stockbridge road, and the half-mile of avenue that shades the bye-road to Sparsholt was welcome indeed.
Sparsholt is a scattered village, on the road to nowhere in particular, and deep set in agricultural stodginess. It has a pleasing transitional-Norman church, with, attached to the living, the sinecure holding of Lainston, half-a-mile distant, whose church has been in ruins for generations. It was in those roofless walls that the notorious Duchess of Kingston was secretly wedded. There is nothing in the nature of a street to be found in Sparsholt village. Houses are few and far between in its winding lanes, and but two shops, the chiefest of them the post office, administer to the wants of this sleepy place. At59 the post office may be purchased anything from a postage-stamp to a Hampshire ham. The village water-supply is obtained from a well with a remarkable contrivance for raising the buckets. A large broad drum or wheel, some nine feet in diameter, is set above the well with the bucket-ropes wound round it. To raise the buckets, you step inside the drum and commence walking up its sides, resembling during the performance nothing so much as a caged squirrel.
Shining with midsummer brilliancy, the sun heated the still air until all movement was irksome, and energy became entirely out of the question; so there was nothing for it but to recline in limp fashion on a hay-rick beside the white and dusty road, lazily noting the passers-by. Few indeed were they who passed down the village street—a shepherd, with barking dog and unruly flock, making in their passage a smother of dust that loaded the hedges with yet another white layer; and, as afternoon wore on, a girl went with pitcher to the well. The sound of buckets being lowered, and the splashing of water as they were wound up, made one feel positively cool. Then came a dull booming that now and again startled the stillness: gun practice off Spithead, without doubt.
Then the sound of Winchester chimes echoed across the four miles of intervening country, and we climbed down from our resting-place and walked up through the village. We were dreadfully thirsty, and, discovering a little inn, passed through the doorway into its stone passage, cool and grateful after the glare outside. The beer was, not to mince words, beastly; but we had a conversation with the rustics, who were sitting or standing in the sanded parlour with striped and coloured beer-mugs in their hands.
“Quiet place, this, sirs,” said one, by way of opening a talk.
61 “Yes,” said my companion, “it seems so; is it always like this?”
“Well, yes, ’tis, in a manner o’ speakin’, an’ yet ’tisn’t, if so be ye can onderstand me. Leastways, ’tis always quiet like to toun-folk like yourselves; but we has our randys now an’ than, hain’t we, neighbours?”
“Ay, that we has.”
“D’ye mind Jubilee time?” A general laugh followed this inquiry, but to us strangers the allusion was cryptic, and provoked no smile.
But there was one dissentient; he was not a native of these parts. “Randys,” quoth he, “ne’er a one of ’ee has seen such rollickings as we uns used to have up to Amport.” Here one of the company stage-whispered to us, hand to mouth, that “Will’m Benjafield was a old, understanding man, as comed from Andover way.”
“Ay,” said our ancient, “I mind well enow the time when the gr’t house to Amport were open house, as ye may say. ’Twas in the old Markis o’ Winchester’s young days. They’m a old ancient fam’ly, the Paulets: ye can see their three golden daggerds on the carving o’ Winchester Guildhall clock to this day. But ’tis many a long day sence the feastin’s and drinkin’s to Amport House. ’Tis small beer now, ’stead o’ good yale, an’ that do make a man’s stummick to wamble tarrible, sure-ly. I’d ’low the zilliest gawk-hammer in them there days drunk better liquor nor the best o’ you uns in these here, an’ the raggedest jack-o’-lent had a crust an’ cheese for the asking o’ it, an’ suthin better nor a tankard o’ swipes to swill his gullet wi’. ’Twas a bit an’62 drap anywhen ye were plazed to ax fort. What dosta say, stunpoll?”
“Why, granfer,” said the young man thus unceremoniously addressed, “I was jest a-hoping you made as good usings o’ yer opportunities as we uns would an we had the chance.”
This was a good enough hint for us. We called for ale for the whole company.
“I’ll tell ’ee,” said “granfer,” laying one hand on my sleeve, while the other carefully described circles with his brimming beer-mug, “I’ll tell ’ee suthin o’ those times when the gran’ company was to the old Markis’s, an’ the huntin’ o’ the fox went arn, with the harses jumpin’ an the harns a-blown’; by gollikins, ’twas times, I tell ’ee. But they was over full rathe; they went the pace too quickly for their pockuts, d’ye see; the folks all went away, the harses sold, till there were scarcely a pair left to whinnick in the big stables. But the Markis, a proud one he wur, wi’ the devil’s own temper, an’ he went a-huntin’ as if he warn’t head an’ heels in debt; an’ they did say the harse he rode warn’t rightly his’n, if all folk’s had their money paid ’em.
“Howsomdever, ’twas one marning he went to the meet at Quarley, an’ ’twas vine sport they had that day, as I see’d myself from the knap. An’ ’twas all the talk o’ the county how the Markis quarrelled wi’ the new Squire, as didn’t rightly know how to ride to hounds. Ye see, ’a was a man who’d been in business all ’a’s life, an’ had bought the Markis’s land, as ’a was obliged to sell it, piece by piece, an so the Markis hated him.
63 “‘What the hell are you up to, sir?’ hollared the Markis, as the new Squire put his harse to a gate right in front of him, just as ’a was a-goin’ to take it. ‘D’ye know who I am, damme?’
“‘Yes,’ ses the Squire, ‘I do; an’ I’d rather be a rich squire than a poor markis any day.’
“’Twas a hard thing to say to sech a gr’t nobleman, an’ a’ turned away an rode home.
“The nex’ day was Sunday, an’ the Markis comes to church late, lookin’ like thunder. We could hear ’im pokin’ the fire in ’a’s pew right through the zinging an’ the gruntin’ o’ the bass-viol an’ the squeakin’ o’ the viddles, an I ses to John Butcher as played the flute, ‘’Tis a tarrible rage ’a’s in this marnin’, sure enow.’ An’ what text should the pa’son gi’ out then, but ‘Let not the sun go down upon thy wrath.’ ‘Sure-ly,’ I whispers, ‘pa’son don’t knaw nothin’ o’ yesterday’s doin’s; a’ wouldn’t be sech a ninny as to offend the Markis in that way.’ ‘Hush,’ ses John, ‘there’s the Markis a-lookin’.’ ’Twas a way ’a had; ’a liked to zee ivery one at church. ’A was leanin’ on the door o’ the pew an’ lookin’ round, when, sudden-like, the hinges o’ it guv way, an’ that noble Marquis fell down wi’ it, just the same as any common feller, like you an’ me.
“‘Blast the door,’ ’a says, wi’ a face as red as a turkey-cock, an’ the pa’son, he says, breakin’ off in his sermond, ‘we will sing to the praise an’ glory of God, the one ’undred an’ twenty-first ’ym.’ We o’ the choir niver knew how we got through that music, some for laffing an’ some for fright at what had happened to such a gr’t lord. The serpent64 couldn’ blaw, nor the flutes neither, an’ the virst viddle put so much elbow-grease into ’as playin’ that ’a bruk all the strings at onct.” “Ah!” said granfr’, shaking his head and drinking his mug dry, “they wuz times.”
“Well, good day to you, friends,” we said, leaving the inn, and our beer (for, as I have said, the local brew was not of the best); “we must be going.”
The rustics watched our departure with interest, until a turning of the lane hid us from their view, and brought us again into the open country, a country-side scattered with small and inhospitable hamlets and villages, where Roman roads ran straight up and down hill, deserted and grass-grown, where apparently the tourist was an unknown quantity, where certainly his wants remain unsatisfied.
This night we “camped-out” as a matter of necessity. It was a fine night, and warm, and so there was not so much hardship in it, after all. Our resting-place was a haystack that loomed up black in front of us as we turned a bend of these lonely roads. We climbed over a field gate and selected a corner of the partly used stack, and fell to talking.
Presently, however, there came the near baying of a big dog, whereupon we rubbed our shins meditatively and climbed to a safer altitude. This was philosophic: we had hardly settled in this coign of vantage when we heard the dog snuffling below, and65 so to cool his questing we reached down some stones from the thatch and sent them into the darkness. We could hear him growling over them in a particularly horrid manner, and congratulated ourselves on our happy perch. But a lucky shot hit him, so he went yelping away, and afterwards all was peace.
It was at a very early hour the next morning we awoke, damp with early dews, uncomfortable, and dishevelled; covered in wildest confusion with fragments of hay, and altogether two most miserable-looking objects. The tramp who sleeps in summertime in haystacks and under hedges with never a change of clothes may possibly not feel any inconvenience for lack of the commonest toilet observances, but the first experience is to the tramp en amateur decidedly unpleasant, so far have we distanced our woad-stained ancestors of a remote Britain when Pears’ soap was undreamed of.
When by good fortune we came to one of the many streams that water this lonesome land we made our toilet, and presently, girded anew with self-respect, set forward in the direction of Romsey and breakfast.
It was still early when we regained the highway, and indeed throughout that day we never once arrived at familiar terms with time. Eight o’clock came, and wore the look of high noon; noonday seemed to herald the hour for tea; by five o’clock we awaited sundown; and at length, when night arrived, the backward vista to this early rising was achieved only by a mental effort, so lengthy was our day.
We breakfasted at a roadside inn, full early, not without inquiring glances from the landlady, for surely never before had she entertained such guests, so near the echo of cock-crow, and yet already dusty with travel.
And so into Romsey, in company with a profane tinker, who ambled, clattering, beside us, scattering anathemas broadcast. Trade was bad, said he, and he hadn’t the price of a pint in his pockets. Perhaps we had? Assuredly; but there it remained. Whereupon ensued references to “torffs,” coloured with the British adjective.
I have never happened upon Romsey in winter time, nor indeed on any other occasion save this, in a season of heat and drought, so say nothing as to its local name of Romsey-in-the-Mud. Its summer aspect is dry and somnolent; its streets apparently all too roomy for its present estate: but then we have not seen Romsey on market-day, which probably gives a different complexion to these streets, so ample and so unconventionally named. One enters Romsey from Winchester along The Hundred, and traverses the town through the Market Square and Horsefair, and leaves it for the New Forest by Mainstone.
But to the tourist the most interesting thing in Romsey is the Abbey church, wonderfully dilapidated and picturesque, picturesque with what we generally (and rightly) think the exaggerated picturesqueness of Prout’s architectural pictures. Prout himself could67 scarce have rendered Romsey Abbey more flamboyantly time-worn than it is. Wild flowers, and even large bushes, grow on its walls, and have forced apart their Norman masonry. Surely nowhere else is so lovely an example of ecclesiastical decay as here, where the shrubs and flowers, the ivy and gorgeous lichens, have draped and mantled these grey walls with a living glory. But perhaps ere these lines shall appear in print, those beauties will have been torn away. The restorer was at Romsey when we visited the Abbey; his scaffoldings were rising against the walls, and workmen were moving about the chevroned windows and portentous corbels that have grinned unchanging upon a changing world for nigh upon eight hundred years. Cats’-heads and double-headed chimeras peculiar to the Norman mind gape and leer from under cornices, and make the restorer’s masons, by comparison with their dim antiquity, seem as evanescent as the gadflies of a summer’s day. The hoariest tombstones in the churchyard below them are things of yesterday beside these contorted monsters. And now they will be scraped and trimmed and renewed, and the masonry reset, and all the weatherings of time improved away. Architects and contractors must live, even though to earn a livelihood they disastrously renew delightful work that has been mellowing for centuries. Everywhere the old work has been scraped, and glass-papered, and tinkered, and endued with a modern smugness, until, as you stand before it, you sigh for the richness of colour that was a delight and a warranty of antiquity.
68 Romsey Abbey is almost entirely Norman—thick-limbed and sturdy, with a virile simplicity in its ornaments of pier and arch. Cruciform, its lantern at the crossing shows even the uninstructed traveller from a distance that here is something more than a parish church of usual type. From the bridge that crosses the Test by the flour mills, one sees the great bulk of the Abbey rising above the greenery of Romsey outskirts, and above all, the lantern, like a fairy crown, completes the picture.
There is a bronze statue of Palmerston standing in the Market Square of Romsey, unrecognisable to all who have been brought up on the conventional likenesses of “old Pam” that used to figure in Punch. We don’t expect the sculptor to give us the Palmerston of the rakishly cocked hat, with a straw in his mouth, but I fear it was with something very like disappointment that we regarded this very unsportsman-like effigy that stands, hatless, strawless, in a mild unjaunty attitude, with outstretched hand, in pose of eternal declamation.
We left Romsey by the grateful shade of Broadlands, and entered the New Forest at the hamlet of Ower. Here close battalions of firs lined the way on either side, and continued with us past Coppithorne church, until we reached Cadnam—Cadnam, a ravelled-out settlement emerging insensibly from the Forest and merging again into its groves by69 equally easy and insensible stages. We plunged into thick glades where a deep hush prevailed in a secondary lighting, varied occasionally by a first-hand patch of sunlight, yellow upon the delicate grass as gold of Australian mintage. This was one of the oldest glades in the Forest, where giant boles proclaimed an age of centuries. Comparatively few of these oldsters remain, so constant and extensively has the woodman’s axe been swung. Perhaps these, too, are doomed. Let us hope they will last our time, but assuredly they will be accorded no more extended grace. When the land-agitators have had their way, when the Socialist shall have come in power, there will be a short way with forests, I promise you, as of everything else that cannot make out a prima facie case of immediate usefulness. The economic times that are coming when these little islands shall be so crowded that the lordly parks and gardens, the mazy forests, and heathy lands, will be cut up into allotments, or used for sites of Socialist barracks, will be more destructive than the days that witnessed Rome’s long agony, the irruption of the Goths, or the fanatic fury of our Puritan days. Art and letters, and all the graces of life will be swallowed up between the struggle for existence and the gloomy social tenets of the new Roundheads in our children’s children’s days. Who that early Victorian poet was I cannot now recall, that rejoiced in being born in our era, nor can I swear to the accuracy of the quotation, but his pæan ran thus, did it not?
70 Lucky enough, he is dead now. But were he alive, ’tis conceivable that, having an eye to signs and portents, he would say with me, “I think it lucky I was born so soon.”
Meanwhile, the objects most commonly met with in the New Forest are timber-wagons and New Forest ponies. The Forest, has a character of its own, with subsidiary traits and divagations that defy monotony. Ancient woods give place to modern plantations; beech succeeds to oak, and gloomy firs to either. Clearings and plantations, heaths and hamlets, and murmuring alleys of foliage, alternate for mile after mile, and moss-carpeted drives everywhere radiate from the orthodox highways.
This journey was not an exploration of the New Forest; these woodlands were but incidents in our itinerary; thus it was that we did not penetrate to Stony Cross and Rufus Stone, but kept straight ahead for Lyndhurst.
And Lyndhurst is as pretty a village as one could wish to see. It is the metropolis of the New Forest, if that portentous word is not too big to apply to this little gem of a place. Here come all them that would make a thorough exploration of the leafy alleys and dim recesses of these woodlands, and as it chances that the democratic taste inclines rather to the fearful joys of Ramsgate or Margate than to forest scenery, Lyndhurst wears an air aristocratic and exclusive, and its visitors are eminently “nice.” True, we saw a brakeful of bean-feasters pledging one another (the ladies as deep-drinking as the men) in pewter tankards outside the Crown Hotel,72 but if one swallow doesn’t make a summer, surely it must be allowed that one bean-feast does not convert Lyndhurst into a semblance of Rye House and Broxbourne.
Lyndhurst, then, exists for the moneyed visitor, and is a model of neatness and propriety. Round about it, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century mansions nestle amid thick bowers. In the centre of the village rises the tall, obtuse-pointed spire of the modern red-brick church, set conspicuously on its high mound, and below, to emphasise the eternal propinquity of Beer and Bible, stands the Crown Hotel and Tap. But the most picturesque grouping of these different estates is where the church spire rises high above the roof of the “Fox and Hounds,” as I have here endeavoured to show.
Three and a half miles down the road is Brockenhurst, a pretty place—I know it well—but this afternoon broken out into a rash of flags and flaunting bannerets in primary colours, and swarming with excursionists, who celebrated some occasion connected with a Widow and Orphan Society. These we soon left behind, crossing the railway, and so into the country again.
The London and South-Western Railway spells the place Brokenhurst, reckless of the philology of the name. “Brock” is Anglo-Saxon for badger, and in the same way “hurst” stands for “wood”; thus with the plural “brocken,” Badgers’ Wood stands revealed. But philology and the bygone natural history of places are nothing to railway companies.
In the hot glare of noonday we came through a74 heathy land to a sandy ford where a stream, the Avon Water, rippled across the road, and a crazy footbridge spanned the current. Brilliant lepidoptera floated lazily in the air, blundering humble bees boomed in many cadences, and the Avon sang a happy song among the grasses and the slight timbers of the bridge; I wish I knew the secret of its joy.
Here we rested awhile, where all was still. Only the booming of the bees disturbed the ear, and one solitary wayfarer passed in the space of two hours. This was one who toured, even as ourselves, afoot, but one who dressed up to the part, with gaiters and Norfolk jacket and great Balbriggan stockings. He was walking as if for a wager; and while we sniffed at this toil of pleasure, he eyed us as he flashed past with some amusement, as who should smile at exhausted rivals.
Presently we set out again and came through Wootton to Christchurch, that fine old town lying between the rivers Stour and Avon, with a great priory church, that gives the place its accepted name, superseding the old-time designation of Twyneham. Here is a Norman house, and close by is the site of the castle, now converted into a public pleasure-ground, where a notice-board warns visitors that the penalty for using bad language is not less than forty shillings.
There is an old altar-tomb in the churchyard that has long been a mystery, and in all probability will75 ever remain one. No one knows what its strange inscription means, although its strangeness invites research, nor who the “ten” were who are buried here, nor who were the “men of strife” that twice buried them: a most enthralling mystery; who will rede the riddle of this cryptic inscription:—
76 Here is another tombstone: one, this time, that arouses, not curiosity, but an unseemly mirth, by reason of its curious illiteracy. It dates from 1720.
By way of Southborough-on-Sea, that struggling maze of stuccoed, melancholy houses, we left Christchurch, and came upon the parched and desolate undulations of that sandy waste, Pokesdown, like nothing so much as a bankrupt outpost of civilisation in the back blocks of Australia.
We had asked a fat and florid countryman, who surely was out of place here, how far it was to Bournemouth.
“We calls it a matter of fower mile,” he said. Those reputed four miles proved to be nearer six than four; better measure than the “reputed” pints or quarts of commerce.
It was late in the hot afternoon, when we came into Bournemouth, through what seemed to us miles77 of suburban roads and endless rows of stucco villas. This is what Mr. Stevenson calls “the uncharted wilderness of Bournemouth,” and, indeed, we found the phrase happy and the place not at all to our liking. From what we saw of the famed pine-woods we were not impressed with them; gaunt battalions of tall trees, bare as scaffold-poles and as straight, with never a branch nor sign of foliage within a matter of forty feet from the ground, and that ground covered with a frowzy matting of husky, colourless fir-spines—a Bournemouth pine-wood is a depressing place.
If Bournemouth had been invented when the era of the Interesting Invalid was yet with us, I can conceive how grand a site it would have been for the novelist’s plots (plots, that is to say, in a technical sense, for under no circumstances could one imagine robustious plottings and deeds of derring-do at Bournemouth). Building-plots are Bournemouth’s nearest approach to the romantic. Languorous romances of the fading-away-in-the-twilight order would have been written with an anæmic heroine effectively displayed against a striking background of whispering fir-trees, and—but you all know that sort of thing!
But this was not to be. Long before Bournemouth had sprung into importance, the Interesting Invalid had grown unfashionable, and there reigned in her stead the robust young woman of fine Du Maurieresque physique, and energetic, not to say athletic and slangy habits. Bournemouth, truly, is thronged with invalids, but not chiefly with the interesting variety: that sort went out with the crinoline. Here78 the Bath Chair is the most familiar object of the sea-shore, and the mild and offensively inoffensive chair-man has attained in his numbers the dignity of a class.
But not only invalids hie them to the neighbourhood of these frowzy firs, these yellow sands. Bournemouth, one is tempted to say, is the watering-place par excellence of the curate. There is a certain respectable air of five-o’clock tea and a savour of muffins about the place, that traditionally accompany the unbeneficed. Bournemouth abominates the tripper whose pockets ring with plebeian silver, whose trips are calculated in hours, and so with the recurrence of statutory holidays, Bournemouth shivers at the sounds of vulgar revelry heard by the sounding sea. Truth to tell, however, the jolly Bank-holiday crew are never too prominent here: lordly expresses are the salient feature of the railway service and hotels of an appalling magnificence affright the shallow pursed. Otherwhere, sandy foreshores are filled, thronged, with trippers, cheap and checked with checks of Tweed gone mad; with photographic ninepenny-touchers, gay again in that the automatic cloud has passed away from their horizon; with longshoremen, gruff of voice and broad in the beam, redolent of spirits, who confide to your unwilling ear the secret of the day being “fine for a sail, sir;” with hateful brats intent on constructing masked pitfalls for the stout and elderly of either gender; with children’s missionising preachers with their excruciating harmoniums; raucous-voiced burnt-corkists, tract-distributors and hurdy-gurds.79 Here, to the contrary, are few of these pests. Certainly there be occasionally, as at prim and proper Hastings, the children’s services, that give an air of cheap and superficial piety to the scene; and liliputian pails and spades are continually at work on the sands; but moneyed holiday-makers, either leisured or (in two senses) pursy business men of the Saturday to Monday variety are among the chief of Bournemouth’s clientèle. I met Wellesley Welles the other day in, let me see where was it? Oh, yes, Capel Court. He was going to flee for a space the gilded baseness of the Stock Exchange for a three weeks’ trip to Homburg, and to that end had accumulated a prodigious heap of red-covered encyclopædias of travel, and spouted guide-bookese until the brain whirled again with the sound and volume of it. Yet Bournemouth claimed him as its own for many week-ends. Indeed, Saturday to Monday Bournemouth is peculiarly knowing in contangos and options, and has a keen eye on the money article in its morning paper.
We stayed a day at Bournemouth, to catch anew the flavour of the place. On the morning after our arrival we came down early to breakfast.
There was an American in the coffee-room. He was staying at the hotel, it seemed, with his wife and daughter. He did not, strange to say, wear80 striped trousers strapped over his boots, nor a star-spangled waistcoat, as in the comic papers, nor the supposedly-characteristic Yankee goatee. No, he had none of these things; he resembled that American of the caricatures no more than the Englishman resembles the John Bull of the leathern breeches and the top-boots, and the low-crowned beaver hat. He didn’t even chew nor spit on the walls (we must revise those caricatures). The only American traits about him were his sallow complexion, his restlessness, and his high cheek-bones. That is to say, when he was silent. When he spoke there was no excuse for mistaking his nationality.
He eyed us for some time with an ill-suppressed curiosity, which at length grew too acute for silence.
“Gentlemen,” said he, “I see your names in the visitors’ book of this hotel. You come from London?”
I said we did.
“Say, you’re not travelling on business, I guess?”
The Wreck replied that we were touring for pleasure, and that we walked. This was an indiscreet admission, I could see at once, for this free-born citizen of those States evidently, by his manner, did not quite appreciate walking for walking’s sake. It was evidently, to his view, the mark of the “mean white.” But his only comment was, “Wall, I’ll swear.”
For all this fall in his esteem, though, his curiosity was still rampant, and he was as eager to obtain personal details as though he had been an interviewer (which indeed he was not, for he informed us that he had made “his dollars” in some grain-elevating81 business or another in “Chicawgo,” and had come over to see this country).
“Well,” I said, in answer to his inquiries, “my friend here is nothing in particular, and I’m a journalist.”
“You don’t say!” he exclaimed. “What paper?”
“The —— and ——,” I replied; “but, indeed, any print that will use my stuff and pay at decent rates.”
“Wall, now! You’re like the flies, bumming around the sweetest lump of molasses, eh?”
I admitted that the case was somewhat similar, although I didn’t like the analogy.
“Ah!” exclaimed our American (whose name, by the way, was Hiram D. Cheasey, or something else equally humorous), “you ain’t got no paper over here to compare with the best New York papers: one of ’em ’specially.”
“Which one may that be?” I inquired of the stranger, who by now was beginning to exhibit symptoms of spread-eagleism.
“Sir,” he replied, “it is the organ through which America speaks to the hull civilized world.”
I suspect I must have been tempted of the devil, for I inquired, with apparent innocency—
“You mean the nasal organ, I presume?”
It was an unfortunate inquiry, for on account of it I never learned the name of the New York print which had so world-wide a voice: I wonder what is the title of that sheet, and what is its scale of remuneration?
It was evening ere we had taken our fill of Bournemouth’s joys and departed from those crowded sands to walk by the sea-shore to North Haven, where the entrance to Poole Harbour bars further progress. Bournemouth’s lights began to glitter in the gloaming, and made this lonely edge of land more cheerless by comparison.
An extortionate boatman (as we subsequently learned) rowed us in the darkness across the ferry to South Haven, and left us, pilgrims in a strange land, upon the sands of the Dorset shore. We groped an unconscionable time amid sand-wreaths and hummocks, coming at length, by favour of Providence, to a low cliff covered with brambles, which we climbed, and then found ourselves by sense of touch in a narrow drong, dark as Erebus, by reason (it should seem) of tall elms whose branches met overhead. This we traversed with outstretched arms and came to Studland church, whose tower was dimly visible where the lane broadened, and the trees drew back their sullen plumes. To church succeeded village, thus to dignify the few houses we discovered, Only one illuminated pane bore testimony to the neighbourhood of human beings: the one inn of the place was close-shuttered, lifeless. We thumped upon the door of that unchristian sot-house, and nothing answered our summons, only the sough of the wind in the trees. We knocked and kicked upon that door with such right good will83 that the churl between the sheets in an upstairs chamber (who must have heard our earliest tapping) was beset by fears for his door panels, and rising, unlatched the lattice overhead, and querulously inquired what we would of him.
“Why, a bed,” we shouted, in chorus.
“Ye’ll get no bed here to-night,” said that licensed victualler; “the missus ain’t at hand, an’ I don’t know nothen about it. Good night t’ye.”
He slammed the casement, and we were left alone. We were consulting our map by the light of matches when a kindly villager took compassion upon us, and suggested that we should set out for Swanage. He guided us to the top of a soaring hill called Ballard Down, and showed us Swanage lights glistening far below.
Here, at the Ship Hotel, we found our rest at 12.30, upon an impromptu bed, contrived upon the coffee-room floor, and slept the sleep that only strenuous tourists can know.
Here we were fairly come into the Isle of Purbeck, which indeed is no isle at all, save by a stretch of fact and imagination. Bounded on the north by Poole Harbour and the river Frome, on the east and south by the sea, the little brook of Luckford Lake runs to meet the Frome only along a portion of Purbeck’s western side, the remainder of that84 frontier being along a succession of especially tall hills which run down to Worbarrow Bay.
Swanage, it may be supposed, is the capital of Purbeck to-day, although of old Corfe was used to be so considered.
It has ever been the outlet for the stone quarried in the island, and of the famous Purbeck marble—that grey, fossil-spangled mineral, familiar to archæologists throughout England as a favourite material centuries ago for the construction of altar-tombs and fonts. It was shipped here continuously until the new railway was brought down from Wareham; now it goes hence mostly by rail.
Swanage strikes the casual visitor as being some sort of an appanage to that firm of contractors, Mowlem & Burt, for everywhere is the name of Mowlem in Swanage. Indeed, John Mowlem, the senior member of the firm, was born here. He traced his ancestry back to a De Moulham to whom the Conqueror gave a manor of that name in Purbeck, and to strengthen his associations with the town, he repurchased lands here that had once been in that family. He died in 1869. It was he and Mr. Burt who brought about the importation to Swanage of the pinnacled Clock-tower that stands in the gardens of The Grove, overlooking the sea. It had once occupied a position on Old London Bridge, and commemorated the victories of Wellington. When the bridge was rebuilt, the Clock-tower was found to be in the way, and no one knew what to do with it. Eventually it was presented to Mr. Docwra, of The Grove, who sent it down from85 London in pieces, and rebuilt it here. Thus are the Wellington monuments moved on from place to place by some strange fate. The hideous statue that, at Hyde Park Corner, avenged France for Waterloo, has been relegated to the Fox Hills, at Aldershot; and the monument in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, never yet finished, has been removed from its chapel to a newer site in the nave: the equestrian statue, too, that stands in front of the Royal Exchange, although still in situ, has had a nameless abomination contrived around and below it.
Swanage, like all seaside places, has grown, and is growing yet, but not with the frenzied growth of more accessible places. It has sands, is seated in a charming bay, and is frequented chiefly by recurrent visitors, who, happening here on some day-excursion from Bournemouth, have been stricken with a love of its still unconventional air, after a surfeit of that starchy town that sprawls unwieldy upon the Hampshire coast. These be decent folk, uxorious perhaps, and with large families, but unostentatious and loving quiet, and they come to Swanage time and again. You can see them any forenoon on the sands, Ma and Pa and the children, the nursemaid, and the Maiden Aunt. There always is a Maiden Aunt, by some kindly disposition of Providence; and I hope, for the sake of families in general, there always will be, for, truly, no more beneficent institution exists.
For these people, Swanage is admirable. If it were extensively built upon, they would go elsewhere, and quite right too. But, although the local landowners86 are eager to spoil the place for the sake of ground-rents, their huge notice-boards facing the sea, offering sites for houses, seem useless enough, and I hope they will remain so, and there’s an end of it.
It is, I suppose, some five miles from Swanage to Corfe: in summer, a hot, dusty, glaring walk, and featureless, too, until Corfe itself is neared. And Corfe, on a hot summer’s day, is a particularly parched, desiccated, thirsty place; shadeless, receiving and radiating heat from its stony expanse until distant objects, commonly still and stolid enough, dance erratically in the quivering air. It shocks the normally-constituted eye to see ranges of hills, distant churches, and big houses wagging frantically, while yet no symptoms of earthquake have been manifested; yet these signs and portents are common enough at Corfe, when the dog days rage unmitigated. A quiet village though, and pleasing enough when once the traveller has quenched his thirst. The streets converge toward a small market-place, and directly in front, high above the church and the houses, tower the sturdy ruins of Corfe Castle.
To all them that see, or would have, significance in the look of a place or building, Corfe Castle should wear an aspect dour and forbidding indeed, for this is a fortress of a history so particularly bloodstained that few places can vie with it in its bad eminence. But though the shattered ruins of its immense keep87 still lift up eyeless windows to the sky, they do not seem to frown, as by all associations they should surely do, if we are to believe the picturesque convention of the guide-book writers. No, they compose excellently and impressively, but I can’t say they lower or frown or do anything significant of their career.
The history of Corfe goes back so far as A.D. 978, when the curtain rises upon the tragedy of Edward the King and Martyr, stabbed to death while receiving, on horseback, a stirrup-cup at the hands of his step-mother, Elfrida, who thus sought to clear the way of her own son to the throne of the West Saxons.
The present castle dates from some period between the Norman conquest and the reign of Stephen, when it was the scene of an ineffectual siege laid by him. Then it became a favourite residence with John, who within these strong walls kept his regalia and many unhappy prisoners, many of them starved to death in the dungeons. Here, too, was imprisoned until the succeeding reign Elinor, the sister of Prince Arthur. Removed afterwards to Bristol, she died there after forty years’ captivity. Edward II. was confined here until his removal to Berkeley Castle.
The last events in the history of Corfe Castle were two sieges in 1643 and 1646. The latter was successful, and, by order of the Parliament, the buildings were afterwards “slighted,” i.e., blown up by gunpowder. But so sturdy and so immensely thick were these walls, that although ruined indeed, they still stand, with gateways thrown out of the perpendicular,88 yet intact. The views from the keep embrace the low-lying heaths that stretch out toward Wareham, and the sullen salt waters of that inland lake, Poole Harbour.
The Purbeck Hills make breathless walking on a hot day, and so it chanced that when we reached the hamlet of East Lulworth we were hot and footsore and scant of breath. Shall I confess that we were soulless enough (or too tired) to step aside in search of Lulworth Cove, that famous inlet of the sea? Yes, ’tis better so. Instead, we lay awhile under the shade of trees in Lulworth Park, and viewed with some disfavour the unpicturesque towers of Lulworth Castle.
At the only inn here we were turned empty away when we would have had lunch; the good folk were too busy with what appeared to be a rent-audit dinner. From the roadway and through the open windows we could see long tables spread with all manner of eatables, and seated there many farmers and yeoman-looking men, who, many of them, in the pauses of their eating, rested their hands beside their plates with knife and fork held upright between their fists.
We were very hungry, and when, on leaving Lulworth, we asked the way of a stolid, big-built, farmer-like man, were none too interested in his long talk of politics and agriculture. He told us of a route over89 the downs by which we should pass Osmington, and we set out with all haste to cover the eight miles between us and that village. The cliff scenery here is grand and comprehensive, with great barrow-covered hills near and far, and a long sweep of coast-line bounded by Portland Bill; but this is a tiring and almost trackless walk in places, and lonely. All the way to Osmington we passed but one meagre collection of cottages with a roadside smithy, where the smith, leaving his work, came out and gazed after us, possibly to refresh his eyes with the infrequent sight of human beings.
We came into Osmington village at the twilight hour, famished and deadly tired. At the “Plough” we would have tea. “Yes,” said the hostess, “but we have neither milk nor butter.” We had a glass of ale instead, and postponed the meal.
90 At Preston, one mile and a half farther, we partook of the long-deferred refreshment at a quarter to nine, and afterwards walked into Weymouth.
The Naval Manœuvres were in progress, and some night operations off Portland were taking place, the roadways, sky, and sea lit up with the brilliant flashings of the search lights.
At 10.45 we reached Weymouth, only to find the hotels filled. With some trouble a bedroom was found for us, but our joy was qualified at being introduced to a low-ceiled garret with a howling infant making night hideous on the other side of a thin boarded partition.
Weymouth is a town of red-bricked respectability, and about fourteen thousand inhabitants. It lives on convicts, Portland stone, and the Channel Islands, and lies upon the curving shores of a beautiful bay. Even as George IV. is the patron king of Brighton, so was his father the respected cause of Weymouth’s prosperity. There is a stumpy statue of him upon the esplanade where Weymouth and Melcombe Regis imperceptibly merge one into the other, and that statue, I take it, is not so much an exemplar of a kingly presence, as a bronze apotheosis of all that was dullest and most obstinate in constitutional monarchy of this century and the last. This is a jubilee memorial, erected in 1809 by the “grateful inhabitants” to George III. It is not a beautiful memorial; it is so unlovely that no photographs of it are on sale at Weymouth, which proves without further ado the poverty of the design. The king looks down the street with a fishy glance, and his gaze to-day rests upon that other jubilee memorial, the Clock-tower, erected in 1887—useful, but scarcely a thing of beauty—a merely meretricious iron and gilt affair, without even the quaint ugliness of the Georgian effigy to recommend it.
Beside these claims to notice, Weymouth has nothing to advance. Its harbour is merely commonplace, and its streets featureless.
We took train to Abbotsbury, and waited a longer time for it to start than it would have taken us to92 walk the distance. However, we passed the time pleasantly enough, reading the auctioneers’ posters of sales—farm-stock and the like—and consulting our maps. Then we had the advantage of sharing the platform with a gorgeous individual who, like ourselves, awaited the train, but, unlike us, was “got up” immensely, and was evidently incapable of forgetting the fact. He wore an eyeglass, and the most wonderful breeches I have ever beheld.
I don’t mean, by particularising these things, to say that he wore nothing else, but that these articles were the most salient of all his apparel, although, without them, the remainder would have been sufficiently striking. But there! words are not sufficient. I have sketched him for your satisfaction, and for my own eternal delight. The93 creature smiled at our rough and ready touring fit, and we chuckled at the opportunity of perpetuating him in print: we found one another extremely amusing, I do assure you.
It is a nine-mile journey by rail to Abbotsbury, on a branch line that has its terminus here. The little river Wey lends its name to two of the villages passed, Upwey and Broadwey, but the railway company is superior to derivatives, and spells the latter Broadway on all its time-tables and station furniture.
There were few passengers for Abbotsbury, and none but ourselves were visitors. At our hotel our hearts sank when we saw, framed and glazed, in the passage, a year-old telegram from the Duke of Edinburgh to the proprietor, asking him to get lunch and beds for a party. It was not only the snobbery of it, but the thought that all subsequent visitors would have to pay for that Royal visit (ourselves included) that made us quail. And, true enough, a massive bill awaited our departure the next morning.
Abbotsbury is a place of very great interest. It lies within half a mile of the sea, near by the Fleet Water and the Chesil Beach, and was at one time the site (as its name implies) of a very extensive and powerful abbey. The Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the appropriation of their funds, put an end to this religious house, among others, and very94 few remains of it are to be seen to-day. The Abbey Farm, a delightful old house, is built of its stones, and portions of the Gatehouse remain, with vestiges of the fish-ponds, here as elsewhere a great feature of the monastic settlement. All else is gone, even the great mansion built by Sir Giles Strangways upon the abbey lands that had been granted to him, and with the stones of its ruinated buildings, has disappeared. But the great tithe-barn of the monks still remains—a building of noble proportions, some 300 feet in length, built with sturdy buttresses and neatly-joined ashlar, with a great porch and a roof held up by massive timbers, every detail fashioned with exquisite taste, and over all a decided ecclesiastical feeling. Few modern churches are built so substantially, and fewer so tastefully, as Abbotsbury tithe-barn. Half of its length is roofless; the moiety of it suffices for the secular farmer who uses it to-day for the same purposes for which it was built many centuries ago: if it was not too large when built, how immense the products of these tithes must have been!
The parish church still exhibits some good architectural details, particularly on the exterior of the north aisle, which shows some excellent Perpendicular windows, surmounted by a string-course and battlements. Pinnacles are corbelled out at intervals from the string-course, and have a very pleasing effect.
Crowning the seaward hill of Saint Catherine, that rises in terraced slopes populous with rabbits, is an ancient chapel, small but immensely strong, built95 to withstand the winds that blow with tremendous violence from the sea. It commands wide-spreading views, to Portland on the one hand, to Lyme Regis and the Cliffs of Beer on the other, and inland stretch the rolling hills and wide downs of this impressive county.
How to seize the characteristics of Dorsetshire when you have fared from end to end of the county only along the bold and cliff-girt scenery of its seaward side, from Purbeck Hills, by the Abbotsbury uplands, to the impressive heights of Golden-cap and Stonebarrow? How to pluck out the heart of its mystery and weird beauty when its heaths and inland vales are matters of reading only? Yet it should seem that Dorset is a Hampshire purged of mere pensiveness, more varied, more dramatic than its eastern neighbour, with a drama that rises to moving tragedies—fit scenes for that blood-drowned rebellion that began upon the beach at Lyme, and so surged through pastoral Somerset to be finally quelled by Monmouth’s capture in the vicinity of Wimborne. But a mile or so apart from those trim modern excrescences of the sea-board, the “watering-places,” risen and rising, the stolid county folk (Teutons chiefly) lead lives little touched with modernism in the fat valleys folded between the swelling shoulders of camp-crowned hills, whereon the Romans and the Britons, the Celt, the Saxon, and the Dane, have waged wars of extermination. Here, in that dim Wessex, were fought many battles in hand-to-hand fashion, and the sublimated memory of them, blurred and fantastic, lingers yet in traditions, even in turns of96 speech and place-names. The Dorset folk have a name for the rich red bloom of the wallflower that seems significant. They call them “bloody warriors.”
Before we left Abbotsbury we visited the Swannery, where many hundreds of swans, the property of the Earl of Ilchester, are kept. There has been a swannery here for over eight hundred years, and, in addition, a decoy for wild duck.
It is a fine breezy walk, but rough and tiring, from here to Burton Bradstock, along the coast—eight miles of a ribbon-like path, that winds along the landward side of the Chesil Beach. By the time we reached that village we had had more than enough of it, and crossed the little river Bredy into the highroad. At the end of another mile and a half that road runs steeply down into West Bay, the port and harbour of Bridport, a desolate place of infinite sand, where the sea comes banging in furiously upon the wooden jetties at the harbour mouth. Up the marshy valley can just be seen the roof-tops of Bridport, and at the back of them hills, with hills again to right and left. Indeed, this is a stretch of country calculated to make sad within him the heart of the cyclist, for hills abound, and however fair the country-side may be to an unprejudiced observer, ’tis little short of a wonder when a land of hills and dales is other than a howling wilderness to the perspiring wheelman, bent over his handles in an agony of pedalling. Such an one we met fighting against the inevitable when last we journeyed this way. The inevitable, it should be said in this connection,97 resolved itself into a dismount, and a moist and gasping halt by the dusty hedgerow. Well, we left the poor soul, and encumbered only with our knapsacks, breasted the steep down that forms a short cut to Chideock. Here cycles may not go by any manner of means.
The village of Chideock lay in a valley at some distance, a village of the kind that lines the highroad, with one long street, rising from the hollow, half-way to the brow of the succeeding hill. All around lay the huge hills of this hilly land, with Golden Cap, truncated, like another Table Mountain, seaward.
Chideock was named from a once powerful family that bore this singular name, but now long since extinct. They had their castle here, of which no sign now remains, saving only in the name of the Chideock Castle Inn, where we stayed the night. It was a night close and intolerably warm, and I could not sleep. All through the night and the earliest morning hours the place within and the countryside without were quiet to a degree. Only once was the stillness of the country road broken—toward the stroke of one—by the old clock on the stairway. Then some one who rode horseback went past at a trot, and the clatter of hoofs rang out clearly in the stillness of the air for some minutes. I lay and wondered whom he could be who was98 called abroad at this hour, and so, weaving little romances around that unconscious rider, presently fell asleep.
In these remote country places every footfall in the night seems to carry an especial significance, and each infrequent sound creates a little eddy of thought in the receptive mind. I accompanied that rider in my dreams, which wove an extraordinary tangle of fact and fancy together. The horse became winged Pegasus, the rider an editor, to whose skirts I was clinging in an agony of desperation, and we were going like the wind. We rose above such sordid things as earthly roads, and soared into the empyrean. Presently we were talking to a lady of classic features and manner of dress. The editor, in an aside to me, said her name was Clio, and he had called to see her with reference to a weekly fashion column which she had promised to contribute to the ——. I had never respected women journalists so much as now. The editor concluded his interview and mounted his horse. “Jump up,” said he, and, so saying, caught me by the arm.
“No hurry,” said I. “Your horse is a good one to go.”
“What the deuce are you talking about?” said he.
I rubbed my eyes and stared at him, and, lo! it was the Wreck, half-dressed and smoking a cigarette, who had waked me.
“I’ve been awake all night,” he said; “it has been too warm for sleeping. It’s five o’clock now, and a lovely morning. Better put on your things, and we’ll go out for an early morning walk.”
99 We dressed and let ourselves quietly out of the house.
Next the inn was the church, which was locked of course at this early hour. In the churchyard was a thing that spoke of Chideock Castle, the tomb of Thomas Daniell, who, as a brass plate informed us, was “Steward of the Manor and Lordship of Chideock, who, loyal to his king, and true to his master, gallantly defended the Castle of Chideock.” The inscription ends with the quotation from Holy Writ—
which reads somewhat humorously, for surely never before has any one so finely confused secular loyalty with religious constancy, and never was blasphemy so unconscious as this.
We returned later to breakfast, and astonished the good folk of the Chideock Castle, who had not heard our early morning exit, and thought us still asleep.
It was, by reason of this early rising, yet cool and pleasant when we had left Chideock, and come by way of Morecombelake into Charmouth.
Charmouth, on this summer’s day, was wonderfully pleasant—everything, sea and shore and sky, pervaded by a golden haze. But what this settlement-like100 place must be like on a wet day of incessant drizzle, is an image dreadful to contemplate.
A rainy day at the seaside, unless, indeed, it be at some huge wen like Brighton or Scarborough, is enough to give even a Mark Tapley thoughts of committing hari kari. The only local optimists then are the boatmen, and they beat every possible Tapley into fits; with them it is always a fine day—for a sail. Nothing is to do on a seaside wet day. Nothing to read at the circulating library: the old maids have borrowed all the spicy novels, and left nothing on the shelves but such enthralling devotional works as “Skates and Shin-plasters for Backsliders” for the appeasement of your literary hunger. The local news-room on such depressing occasions contains a parish magazine, the last number of Blowhard’s “Sermons,” Sharpshin’s “Local Gazetteer and Directory,” last week’s London papers, and half-a-hundredweight of “Bits” prints. With even all this wealth of literature you are not happy, but long, like Wellington at Waterloo, for night and—oblivion.
Charmouth was the scene of a thrilling incident in the hunted wanderings of Charles II., for it was here that he sought to have his horse’s cast shoe replaced, and was imperilled by the blacksmith’s discovery that the shoes were of a make unknown in that part of the country.
We had of late experienced a sufficiency of rough walking, and so struck inland to avoid Lyme Regis and the seaward cliffs. In another three miles we had reached the Devon border, where the highway,101 running on a lofty ridgway, is carried through a spur of the hills in tunnel. For rather more than a mile the road forms the boundary line between the counties of Devon and Dorset, right and left. Then came, at the end of a long rising vista, bordered by murmuring pines, the welcome sign of Hunter’s Lodge Inn, where we celebrated our entrance upon Devon soil by draughts of cider. Here was a humorous wheelman, garbed fearfully in white flannel breeches and black jacket, who retailed his experiences of rural inns on Dartmoor, experiences in a minor key, for he told us in happy epigram that, in Devon at least, innkeepers divided creation into an unholy Trinity of man, beast, and cyclist, and that, of the three, the cyclist was the lowest order.
Two miles and a half further on, and we came to the dull little market-town of Axminster, beside the clear-running Axe.
Axminster, for all its quietude and respectable insipidity, has had its stirring times. In the immediate neighbourhood was fought the battle of Brunenburgh, between a huge army of invading Danes and the Saxon forces of Athelstan. To quote the curious phrasing of an old chart of Henry VIII.’s time, “There entrid at Seton dywse strange nacions, who were slayne at Axmyster to the number of v Kings, viij erles, a busshoppe, and ix score thousand in the hole, as a boke old written doth testyfye.” To this day the level lands of the Axe valley and the lush meadows that border the river bear names that perpetuate those bloody onsets of upon a thousand years ago: Warlake, Kingsfield, Battleford recall the day of that great Saxon victory.
In the time of the great Civil War the country round about was harassed with the varying fortunes of Cavaliers and Roundheads, who, making sorties from their respective strongholds of Exeter and Lyme Regis, laid waste this unfortunate debatable ground. But it was during the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion, and after the failure of that desperate emprise, that a peculiarly lurid light is shed upon this town in common with all these counties of Dorset, Devon, and Somersetshire. There is a manuscript book of the time, still preserved in Axminster Independent Chapel, written by the minister, called “Ecclesiastica, or a Book of Remembrance,” which sets forth the doings of the period, and the persecutions to103 which the Dissenters were subjected. “Now” (the writer says) “the Lord stirred vp James, Duke of Monmouth (reputed son of the former king C. II.), who had bin in an exile state for some time, and on the 11th day of the 4th moneth of this year, 1685,2 he safely and peaceably landed at the hauen belonging to Lyme Regis with a small number of men, about eighty, hauing their ship laden with armour and ammunition, who, immediately vpon his landing, gaue forth his declarations to restore liberty to the people of God for the worship of God, to preserue the rights and priueledges of the nation, &c. Tydings of his landing were spread abroad far and near very speedily, and divers persons from severall quarters hasted to resort to him. Now were the hearts of the people of God gladded, and their hopes and expectations raised, that this man might be a deliuerer for the nation and the interest of Christ in it, who had bin euen harrous’d out with trouble and persecution, and euen broken with the weight of oppression vnder which they had long groaned.” So presently Monmouth’s army “jncreased to seuerall thousands,” and on the 15th of June they began their march from Lyme, “with much dread and terrour, to the amazement and wonder of many what the Lord had wrought. The first day of their march they came into the town of Axminster,” and there they lay some five days. Marching out towards Taunton, several skirmishes occurred, with loss on both sides, and “one Henry Noon, a pious and liuely Christian,104 a vsefull member related to this body, was also slain. And this church began to be diminished.” Then came the catastrophe of Sedgemoor, and a dreadful orgie of hangings and quarterings in this West of England. Axminster, however, witnessed only one execution, that of Mr. Rose, one of Monmouth’s gunners. As the rebellion was not merely a political movement, but also in some sort religious—a Protestant rising against Roman Catholicism—it followed that its failure was the beginning of bitter persecutions against Protestants—Churchmen and Dissenters alike. It must not be supposed, however, that Protestantism has a monopoly of martyrs. When that original form of dissent obtained the upper hand, there generally followed an equally bad time for members of the older Church, which then had the peculiar honour of furnishing victims for stake or gibbet. Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs” only shows us one side of religious persecution; the other side, were it equally well compiled, would be as lurid, as merciless: religious bigots seem to have been sadly deficient in humour.
Axminster has given an undying name to a particular make of carpet that is no longer manufactured here, but at Wilton, in Wiltshire. The Axminster factory was finally closed in 1835, having been in work for eighty years.
Two miles south of Axminster, on our way to Seaton, we came upon the farmhouse of Ashe, at one time the mansion of the Drakes. Here was born, on May 24, 1650, John Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough. Here, too, in the private chapel of the house, now used as a cider cellar, was married Lord North, one of that tactless ministry who lost us the New England States. In 1782, the last of the Ashe Drakes died, and five years later the greater portion of the house was destroyed by fire.
In Musbury church, a mile farther down the road, are monuments to Drakes of Ashe. Amongst those commemorated is that Sir Bernard Drake who disputed so hotly with his kinsman the great Sir Francis, most renowned of all Drakes, the question of armorial bearings. When Elizabeth granted the latter a new coat-of-arms, Sir Bernard replied that “though her Majesty could give him a nobler, yet106 she could not give him an antienter coat than his,” and with that flattering unction, self-administered, he was fain to be content.
To Ashe presently succeeds the straggling village of Axmouth, whence the sea is visible at the farther end of the marshy lands where the Axe struggles out into the Channel over a bed of shingle. Just above Haven Cliff the highroad is carried over the river by a bridge of three arches that gives access to Seaton.
Seaton is in process of rising, and to all who have witnessed the evolution of a seaside town from fishing village to “resort”—that is sufficient to say Verb. sap. sat. It possesses a terminal railway station on a branch line, and is the scene of Sunday “there and back” excursions from London in the summer season. On those occasions the place is crowded for a brief three hours or so, when trippers snatch a fearful joy. At other times Seaton is sluggish and dull, and really the bourgeois107 plastered buildings of the little town are an insult to the magnificent scenery on either hand.
Visitors there were a few on the beach—quiet folk mostly, and provincial of aspect, save indeed a loathly Cockney worm who had by some mischance missed his Margate, who leaned against a seaworn capstan, the sole representative of his particular stratum of civilisation—lonely, ineffable.
When the rain came down that had been impending all the forenoon, Seaton became doleful. There was nothing to do but take the next train to Exeter in search of a waterproof civilisation.
Preconceived ideas are, when not realised, apt to disturb one’s peace of mind, and so it happened that we, who had conjured up a mental picture of Exeter, had indeed imagined a vain thing: the reality came upon us with something of a rude shock. Used to the more familiar type of cathedral city, dreamy old places where the atmosphere of the Minster is all-pervading, and where the Bishop, the Dean and Chapter, and their doings hold the foremost rank in men’s minds and talk, we were not prepared to come upon so busy a place as Exeter, where the ecclesiastical element is only one among many and is not pre-eminent.
There is, indeed, no holy calm in the “Queen City of the West:” the tramway bell is familiar in its streets, and from end to end of the main thoroughfares tall telegraph poles lend an American air to the view.
But Exeter, although entirely different from one’s dreams, is extremely interesting and picturesque: its slums are the dirtiest, and their smells the vilest of any out of London, and the ancient rotten tenements the most tottering of any I have seen.
Yet there be those who like not mention of the place. These are evil-doers, for whose benefit the Assizes are holden at the picturesque fifteenth century Guildhall, so conspicuous an object in the busy High Street. There is a fine old highly coloured character in English history, Richard III. to wit109 (who, if history speaks truly, fully deserved a place amongst the malefactors of his age), who had, according to Shakespeare, no occasion to love Exeter. The incident may be read in Richard III., Act iv., Scene 2:—
No man who writes upon Exeter, even if he only writes as superficially as I do here, can be expected to forego this quotation—the expectation would be too much for endurance: indeed, there are virtues of omission in this book which might gain me the tolerance of that chivalric myth, the “gentle reader,” for this one small sin of hackneying the hackneyed once more. I take it, for instance, as a generous forbearance on my part, that I did not quote at Winchester that oft-quoted epitaph on Izaak Walton, although I hold it charming.
Among the first things we did at Exeter was to inquire (for we know our Shakespeare well) for Rougemont Castle. But, as the first passer-by whom we button-holed declared, with a glorious west-country confusion of pronouns, that he “had never heard of he,” so also did every other person at whom we directed our inquiries protest his or her ignorance of such a place, saving, indeed, one who directed us to what proved to be the Rougemont Hotel, “a large red building” indeed, but not the one we wished.
110 Others had all the same tale to tell, ancient inhabitants equally with the “strangers in these parts,” so we wavered between a consciousness of absurdity and a feeling of indignation against the unlettered strata into which we had penetrated, until, by good fortune, we encountered a bookish “commercial,” to whom the place was known under its old-time name equally well with its modern appellation of Northernhay.
Northernhay is a public garden, set about with statues of local celebrities, and with one whose original was of imperial fame—Sir Stafford Northcote, Earl of Iddesleigh. It was the site of that stronghold, Rougemont Castle, whose poor remains are now enclosed in private grounds. The gardens stand on a considerable height, and overlook, through the trees, the Queen Street Station of the South-Western Railway. All day long, and all the night, the snorting of engines and their shrill whistles, the metallic crash of carriage buffers, and the thunderous impacts of railway trucks are heard. Behind the station the eye rests upon the county gaol and the military barracks. Exeter has all the appliances of civilisation, I promise you.
It is a relief to turn from here and from the thronging streets to the quietude of the Cathedral precincts, shadowed by tall trees and green with lawns.
Externally, the Cathedral is of the grimiest and sootiest aspect—black but comely. Not even the blackest corners of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London show a deeper hue than the west front of St. Peter’s111 at Exeter. The battered, time-worn army of effigies—kings, saints, crusaders, bishops—that range along the screen in mutilated array under the great west window of Bishop Grandison’s, are black too, and so are the obscene gargoyles that gibber and glare with stony eyes down upon you from the ridges and string-courses of the transepts, where they abide ever in an enduring crepuscule. The sonorous note of the Great Peter bell, sounding from the south transept tower, is in admirable keeping with the black-browed gravity of the close.
But within the Cathedral it is quite another matter. Few of our great minsters are so graceful, so airy and well lighted, as the interior of Exeter Cathedral. The great windows of the aisles shed a flood of light upon the clustered columns of warm-coloured stone that bear aloft the elaborately carved vaulting of the nave, and the clerestory windows, high up in the walls, illuminate the springing of the arches and the carven corbels of the vaulting shafts. Exeter Cathedral windows are the triumph of Geometrical Decorated work. North and south, those windows run the length of the building in pairs, each pair of different design.
One of the quaintest of Exeter’s many churches is that of Saint Mary Steps, by the site of the old West Gate, with its clock face and three ancient figures nodding the hours and striking the quarters upon bells. The central figure represents Henry VIII., but is traditionally known as Matty the Miller.
We passed down the steep High Street of Exeter, crowded with ruddy-towered churches, and bordered, as to its farther end, with the low-lying slums of Exe Island. Across Exe Bridge is the suburb of St. Thomas, and we explored its one long street to its end, where it joins the Dunsford Road, from whose rise this prospect of Exeter is taken. Then we retraced our steps some distance, and set out for Teignmouth, coming in rather over a mile to Alphington, a pretty village, with tall and slim church tower looking straight down the road, making, with its red sandstone, a striking contrast with the vivid green114 of the rich foliage around, and the dazzling whiteness of the “cob” cottages, whose whitewash seems ever fresh. We glanced inside the church, but a christening was in progress, and we fled, pursued by the ear-piercing yells of the unhappy infant.
With Alphington were passed Exeter’s latest encroachments upon the country in this direction, and the road presently became perfectly rural. To the left was the rich level through which the Exe flows, now restrained by cunningly constructed canals, weirs, banks, and sluices from flooding the pastures, in some instances below its level, and intersected by little dykes for their better irrigation.
The road shortly descended into a pretty valley, where were some cottages beneath a peculiar isolated hill, crowned with a windy coppice; below were pools of water that reflected hurrying clouds. At the extremity of the valley the road was bordered by evergreen shrubs, firs, and larches, and a dense undergrowth of brambles and wild-flowers harmonised with the rich colour of a disused quarry, from whose red ledges dripped drops of water with hollow sound.
Then, past the huge building of the Devon County Lunatic Asylum, we came into Exminster, standing on somewhat high ground. For sketching purposes it does not group well: there are, though, some points of interest within the church, among them a recessed portrait effigy of Grace Tothill.
But the most interesting feature of Exminster church is the series of saints on the ceiling at the east end of the south aisle. The aisle has the “wagon” roof, so frequently met with in Devon, and it is divided into square panels by old carved woodwork.116 The panels are filled with plaster, on which are executed a series of saints and prophets, in low relief, conceived and wrought in the most grotesque vein. The ceiling, woodwork, and all, has been treated to a liberal coat of whitewash.
This figure, representing St. James the Less, takes the palm for eccentricity of appearance, though the others are not far short of his somewhat ungainly prominence. He is apparently in a great hurry, intent on some hot-gospelling expedition, but he has a wicked eye that ill beseems his errand, and a cudgel that seems out of keeping with the book.
I think him a very charming saint indeed, with a happy lack of anything like a priggish austerity: one might be happy in the society of such a saint as this—if only he wore boots. Pity is that the average run of saints one hears or reads of are very gorgons for grimness: they look not upon the wine when it is red (nor white, either, for that117 matter). They are not like this old fellow, who is my beau idéal of the jovial anchorite. The first editor of my acquaintance (he was the editor of a pseudo-religious magazine—it is solemn food for reflection that nearly all young fellows of literary-artistical tastes start with magazines of this stamp), my first editor, I was saying, would not, some years syne, print this, my pet saint, “for,” said he, “he is irreverent, and”—with a fine disregard of grammar—“the proprietors would not like it.”
I argued that he might tickle the readers’ fancy; but the proprietors came between the readers and myself, and the article went to press without St. James the Less.
“I assure you,” said the editor, defending himself from the charge of “unco’ guidness,” “I would not object to him in the least, but” (sighing) “you don’t know our proprietors.”
I murmured gently that I had no wish to make their acquaintance.
“Do you know,” resumed the editor, “that I am not allowed to mention the name of Shakespeare in our pages?”
“Great Bacon!” quoth I, astonished; “why not?”
“Well,” said he, “you may laugh at the idea; but our people consider him immoral. If we find any particularly devout sentiment that makes an apt quotation, we may use it, but must, under no circumstances, ascribe it to Shakespeare.”
(I may remark, en parenthèse, that the magazine in question is defunct: it was too pure for this wicked world.)
118 For such good folk, prone to see evil in everything, pruriently pure, even to the wrappaging of piano-legs, even the name of the Andaman Islands must have a suspicious sound; and the Teutonic “Twilight of the Gods,” unenglished, would savour of the rankest blasphemy.
Exminster lies close to the river, and from its church-tower there is a magnificent view down as far as Exmouth, and then out to sea. The scenery is very beautiful: the Exe broadens into an estuary, and at low tide the smell of the seaweed and the mud-flats comes across the low-lying fields between the river and the highway with a refreshing breeze, doubly welcome after a hot and dusty walk. There is a walk beside the estuary atop of the banks that restrict the waters to their proper channel—a walk that affords delightful views. It leads past the lock of the Exe Navigable Canal at Turf, whose buildings form a charming composition, with foreground of tall grasses, and a glimpse of the twin towers of Exeter Cathedral, distinct, though nearly seven miles away. We came to Powderham this way, and crossed the railway to Powderham church, that stands beside the road within the bounds of Powderham Park. Park and castle have been for centuries the home of the Courtenays, earls of Devon, whose family history goes back to a very remote and misty antiquity. Many Courtenays have119 been laid to rest in the church, and in a chapel of it is a beautiful altar-tomb, with recumbent portrait-effigy of the eleventh earl’s countess. From here was a glorious view of park and castle, with herds of deer trooping down to the waterside to drink. The light was waning, and the salt breeze blew chill after the hot and scorching day. The light from the western sky shone redly upon the windows of the castle, which, save for this, lay dark and half-defined amid the groves and alleys of forest foliage.
We turned and gazed upon the broad and placid Exe. Lights were beginning to twinkle from the opposite shore, where lay Exmouth, the commonplace,120 two miles away, across channels, shoals, and sandbanks, whose treacherous surface the rising tide was swiftly covering. Gulls were screaming over their evening feast of sprats and pilchards, their harsh cries breaking the stillness of departing day.
Signal-lamps on the railway shone green and red and white, where Starcross Station lay ahead, making, with the curve of river mouth, ships at anchor behind the Bar, and the soaring tower of the old Atmospheric Railway, a natural composition which no artist could possibly resist noting. So I sat on a wall and sketched in the gathering gloom, while the Wreck (who, I fear, has no soul for these things) went on in advance to negotiate for high tea and quarters for the night.
I left off somewhat abruptly last night, you may say, but indeed I think there is nothing which it would be profitable to set down in this place of what befell at Starcross. Referring to my diary, I find a mention of cockles (upon which Starcross prides itself), which some kindly stranger invited us to partake of as we were having tea, all three of us, in the hotel coffee-room. But cockles (if you will excuse the Irishry) are very small beer, so I do not propose to trouble you with an account of them. I will merely say that we had tea and went to bed, and rose and breakfasted in the morning, and presently set out for Teignmouth.
Starcross has aspirations. It is a little village,121 whose fishers, in a whimsical manner of shorthand, paint their boats *+ by way of informing the world at large whence they hail. It fancies itself a watering-place, but it is just a quiet settlement, with a ferry to Exmouth, and a fishing jetty by the station, and, riding out at anchor in the Exe, a curious pleasure-boat, fashioned in the shape of a huge swan. This little town was, and possibly remains, dependent upon the Courtenays. The chief of the two hotels, the Courtenay Arms, exhibits the heraldic devices of that ancient family and its mournful motto—Quid feci? ubi lapsus.
The railway here runs beside the road, and presently crosses Cockwood Creek on a wooden viaduct. Then came a notice, warning all and sundry of what dreadful things should be done to all them that trespassed upon the line. We therefore crossed over here, and on the other side found ourselves on the Warren, a broad expanse of sand, partly covered at high water. Above high-water mark the sand is held together by rank grasses and tufts of furze; and beneath are the thickly populated burrows of innumerable rabbits. In shallow pools herons were patiently waiting; while, as we walked along, we disturbed plovers, which rose up and flew away with whirring wings. Wild ducks and sea-gulls were plenty.
At the western end of the Warren we came upon Langstone Point, the eastward boundary of the port of Teignmouth. At top of it is a trim coastguard station, and across the line rise the red cliffs of Mount Pleasant, fronted with a chalêt-like inn.122 Then we came upon the sea-wall that leads into Dawlish.
When the excursionist from London sees the yellow sands and rippling sea, the red rocks, the green lawns, and the sliding rivulets and miniature cascades of Dawlish from the railway platform, he is unhappy, because the place looks so charming, and he is going to leave it for places he knows not, but which (he thinks) cannot begin to compare with this fairyland. But Dawlish is seen at its best from the railway station and under such hurried circumstances. The place affords little satisfaction when one comes to the exploration of it. The town is bright and lively, and the sands crowded in summer, and the sea-wall well frequented, but Dawlish lives only for and on the visitor; when its short season is done and the visitors have departed, there is (consequently)123 no business of any kind. It is just a little town, bandbox neat, called into existence by these touring times, and in the spring, autumn, and winter it is as deserted and woebegone as any dead city of the plains. For here is no port, nor river, nor any anchorage, and, for all that is doing in winter months, the inhabitants might hibernate like the dormouse and not miss anything.
Dawlish Station is built on the sands, and the Great Western Railway runs along under the cliffs, on a sea-wall of solid masonry, from Langstone Point, through the five tunnels of Lee Mount and Hole Head, to Teignmouth.
Dawlish did not detain us long. We dusty pilgrims shunned the spick-and-span society of summer124 frocks and immaculate blazers, and fared forth up the steep paths of Lee Mount on to the highroad for the distance of a mile, when we walked down Smugglers’ Lane to the sea again, where the Parson and Clerk stand at the extremity of a precipitous headland—the Parson on the face of the cliff, the Clerk cooling his heels in the water. For the recognition of the faces supposed to be seen on the sandstone rock, the Eye of Faith is imperative: but many folk possess that.
There is a legend accounting for this petrified couple. It seems that the vicar of a neighbouring125 parish had business with his bishop at the Palace of Exeter. He set out late in the afternoon, on horseback, for the city, accompanied by the parish clerk, and, a storm coming on, they promptly lost their way in the mist and rain; the incessant flashes of lightning, brilliant as they were, would not have sufficed for them to regain their road, even had their horses been less terrified. The vicar was speedily drenched to the skin. “Damme,” says he, “there’s not a soul at hand of whom to inquire our way in this misbegotten wilderness. I’d take the devil himself for a guide if he were here.”
No sooner had the vicar uttered this profane sentiment, than they heard, above the howling of the storm, the clattering sound of a horse’s hoofs, and a prolonged flash of lightning showed them an old gentleman, clad in sombre garments, cantering past on his mare. The clerk hailed him, and he drew rein.
“I suspect, sir,” said he, addressing himself to the vicar, “you have lost your way. Can I be of any service to you? If so, pray command me, for it is ill wandering abroad on such a wild night.”
“Sir,” said the vicar, who was, indeed, no mealy-mouthed man, for all his holy office, “we have lost our road, and are wet through,” adding, “this is the most damnable night that ever I have had the ill fortune to travel in.”
“You may well say that,” rejoined the old gentleman briskly, with a complacent smile; “but allow me to put you in the right way.”
In scarcely five minutes from their encounter, the126 party drew rein before a cosy inn. The vicar, the clerk, and their guide dismounted, and sending their riding cloaks to the kitchen fire to dry, sat down to a bowl of punch. They caroused until a late hour, while the storm raged unceasingly without.
At length the vicar rose, saying, “Storm or no storm, he must be going, for he had important business that demanded his presence at Exeter early the following morning.”
“Well,” said the old gentleman, “if you are so resolved, I will accompany you, for I make no doubt that without my company you would soon go astray again. Fortunately my way runs with your own.”
The three set out again, and rode some distance, until they heard the roar of the sea even above the shrieking of the gale, and felt the flecks of sea-foam upon their cheeks.
“Man,” said the vicar, in a rage, as a more than usually vivid flash of lightning showed them to be upon the verge of a tall cliff, “do you know what you are doing—bringing us to these fearful rocks?”
“Yes,” replied the stranger, “this is my road,” and he laid his hand upon the vicar’s shoulder.
“Take your hand off,” yelled the vicar, “it’s devilish hot,” as indeed it must have been, for where the old man’s hand had been placed there rose up a thin curl of smoke from scorched cloth.
“Hot is it?” inquired the old gentleman mildly, “perhaps I am slightly feverish.”
But the vicar had perceived into what terrible company he had fallen, and shouting to the clerk, he lashed his horse furiously. But, no matter how127 hard he or the clerk plied their whips, not an inch would the horses budge. The winds changed into demoniacal shouts; troops of fiends, warlocks, and witches gathered round, shrieking, as the pair sank down into the face of the cliff, and a horrid peal of mocking laughter was the last thing they heard on earth.
The next morning, when the farmer’s men came down to the sands with their carts for the seaweed thrown up by the storm over night, they were astonished at beholding a face in the cliff’s overhead, and, standing out in the sea, crowned with screaming cormorants, and buffeted by the heavy waves, a tall pillar of rock which had not been there before.
I take this moving story as a warning to parish clubs to be careful in the selection of their vicars.
From here it is a two miles’ walk along the sea-wall into Teignmouth. Time and again, in winter storms, hundreds of feet of massive masonry have been torn down, and often carried away bodily, by the sea, and on two or three occasions great landslips have occurred from the soaring red-sandstone cliffs overlooking the railway. Railway engineering here is no play.
“Teignmouth” (says my Bædeker) “is a large watering-place, prettily situated at the mouth of the Teign.” Thus far the guide-book. It is a peculiar feature of this class of literature that information is128 hurled at one’s head in stodgy lumps, in which are embedded measurements and statistics, enclosed in brackets sprinkled over the pages, like—like currants in a penny bun. Yet there are misguided folk who read guide-books continuously: these are people with an insatiable rage for general information, who spout dates at every turn.
But Teignmouth may well be termed a watering-place,129 if one may take the fact of its being partly surrounded by water as a valid claim to that obscure appellation, although I wot of places bearing it which are like unto the great Sahara for dryness.
The town, which ranks next after Torquay in size, is continually growing, and climbing up the hillsides. They have built in every direction; the tunnels that were used to render its railway station even as the stations of the Metropolitan Railway for gloom have been opened out; the pier has burst into a dreadful variegated rash of advertisements, and the bathing-machines are blatant with the name of a certain Pill.
But with the growth of the town, the local rates, say the ratepayers, with doleful intonation, keep pace, and the ambition of the local governing body accompanies the onward march, and tends to o’erleap itself in matters of public improvements.
There is the market-house for the pointing of an example. I well remember the cavernous ramshackle old place that stood here years ago, a dim and dismal hole, where the blinking, owl-like stall-holders sold beans by the hundred and (so say the malicious) peas by the dozen. The Local Board pulled it down, which was, by itself, a well-advised action; but when there presently arose on its site another building devoted to the same purpose, wiseacres shook their heads and prophesied evil things.
When Teignmouth sages foretold these things, they displayed a foresight that would not have disgraced the Delphic Oracle; for, although the new market was in every way adapted to modern needs,130 yet in a short while its complete failure, commercially, was sufficiently demonstrated, and, to this day, he who would be alone and shun his fellow-men, betakes himself to the market, and broods there undisturbed. You may wander in the by-lanes of the countryside, or sit upon the hardly accessible rocks beyond the Ness, but, even then, you shall not be so secure from human gaze or so unutterably lonely as in the “market.” Yet the business of the town has not decayed; neither, I suspect, are the tradesfolk less prosperous than of yore: the market simply was not wanted.
When we were at Teignmouth we became of a mildly inquiring turn of mind, and wandered along the sands to where the Teign flows out, across the131 sandy shifting bar, into the sea. Across the wide estuary is the fishing-village of Shaldon, now growing out of all knowledge, and the bold red front of the Ness, crowned with firs, confronting the waves.
Round here by the sand spit, past the battery pour rire, is the little lighthouse, and behind it the lifeboat-house, with its window illuminated at night, where the barometer and weather-chart are anxiously scanned in the summer months by eager visitors. For the proverbial inconstancy of the weather is very marked here. One may stand looking up the Teign in fine weather, to where the Dartmoor hills loom grey in the distance, and presently see the rain-clouds gather and sweep swiftly down the valley, blotting out the landscape with driving mist; and yet, in a little while, it shall be all bright again with sunshine. It is, indeed, not often that a day in Devon is entirely hopeless, for132 clouds disperse frequently as quickly as they come. It is to this moist climate that softly beautiful Devonshire owes its fair name.
Behind the lifeboat-house is the harbour, where is to be found the real life of the place, as distinguished from that entirely different existence lived in summer months on the sands, the pier, or the Den, that wide lawn fronting the sea.
Teignmouth, in fact, is not merely a summer resort. It has a select and proper society, which is nothing if not dignified and stately, Teignmouth society being composed of retired half-pay officers and their families, with slim purses and inflated pride—a curious and exceptional combination. The attitude of this circle is one prolonged sniff.
A small shipping trade, and a fairly commodious harbour to accommodate it, together with quays and queer waterside inns and storehouses and a custom-house, are livelier attributes of the town. Also, there are sail-lofts and seafaring smells, and a shipbuilding yard, where I remember, years ago, to have seen a vessel built. Boats there are, and a yacht or two anchored out in the channel, a cluster of ships buoyed out in deep water, and at ebb tide, two or three big vessels heeled over in the ooze. There is a very nautical flavour, figurative and realistic, about the harbour, and an ancient and fish-like smell about the jetty where the fisher-boats land their catches. Hereabouts, in the sunshine, sit rows of amphibious loungers, who smoke, chew tobacco, and curse the livelong day—such of them as have not been converted at the Gospel Hall yonder.
133 Up the river, beyond the harbour and the clustering masts, is the bridge. A remarkable bridge this, built of wood in the first years of the present century, with thirty-four arches, and (to descend to the particularity of the guide-book) a total length of 1670 feet.
Shaldon is reached by it, and the Torquay road. The ferry-boats from the harbour take passengers across for the same toll of a penny either way. We went across by boat, and instead of taking the highroad for Torquay, climbed round under the Ness, among the fallen rocks and seaweed-slippery boulders by the sea.
I knew an artist once who climbed round by these jagged rocks, and slipped down between two of them and sprained his ankle, just as they do in the penny novelettes. But there the resemblance ceased. The artists in the novelettes are always handsome and of a god-like grace, and they wear moustaches of a delightfully silken texture, and velveteen coats, and talk pretty, like nothing or no one ever did talk. This fellow, to the contrary, was as ugly a beggar as one might meet in a long day’s march, and he was as awkward as a duck out of water, and instead of a velveteen coat he wore a blazer of the most inartistic and thrilling combinations of coloured stripes. He said velveteen coats were all “bally rot,”134 which shows how vulgar he could be on occasion. No artist in the novelettes ever said “bally rot,” I’m sure.
Also, he smoked tobacco of the rankest and most objectionable kind, and he never wore a moustache at all, and shaved only once a week, so that no self-respecting girl was ever known to allow herself to be kissed by him more than once. I can’t understand how all this could be: it doesn’t resemble the novelettes one little bit. But this artist was like the artists in the tales in one particular; he painted superlatively, as thoroughly, indeed, as he swore and drank, and that is saying a great deal.
Well, as I was saying, he slipped down between two rocks and sprained his ankle. He didn’t, like those (I fear) apocryphal artists in the stories, lie there gracefully and quote Shakespeare and Dr. Watts about it, until two lovely heiresses to untold millions came along in a boat and rescued him from the rising tide, and fell in love with him and married the fellow (one of them, I mean; the other—in the stories—dies of a broken heart).
No! He lay there and swore dreadfully, until some fishermen came along and refused to take him off in their boat until he had paid them a sov., money down, when he swore (if possible) more dreadfully than before. No beautiful girls came and rescued him at all; only one old maid passed, who, thinking he was drunk, gave him a tract, warned him against the evils of intemperance, and went away, shocked at the “language” he used.
135 This is a very sad and unromantic episode, I know, but things do fall out thus in real life. If this simple story should prove of any use to realistic novelists, I’m sure I should be only too proud for them to use it.
Meanwhile, let us away to Torquay. Here a steep and rugged path, leading up the face of the cliff, brings us to Labrador. Every visitor to Teignmouth goes also to Labrador, a name not usually coupled with sunshine and sparkling sea, al fresco teas, and roses at a penny a piece. He was a romantic mercantile Jack, who, retiring from the Newfoundland and North American seas, laid out his precarious little estate and built this little house on it, and named his domain after an inhospitable coast. He has voyaged long since into the Unknown, and his romance has gone with him, for the place is now but a superior sort of tea-garden, where you drink your tea and eat your cream and strawberries in the open-air arbours and the society of innumerable centipedes and spiders.
You cannot fare farther along the coast-line, just here, without becoming bedevilled amid fallen rocks and rising tides; and to climb the cliffs at a venture might haply result in being hung up on some impracticable ledge, whence advance or retreat would be alike impossible. So we climbed the usual, though precipitous, path past Labrador on to the cliff-top, and from thence across ruddy fields to the dusty highway, along which, to our surprise, came two Italians with a piano-organ. O Herrick!
“Would the signori lika ze musique?” and, suiting the action to the word, the chief brigand gave the organ-handle a turn. Out leaped the initial bars of—yes, let it be named—“Ta-ra-ra Boom de Ay.” The signori would not like any; please to go away. “What,” asked the Wreck, “is the Italian for ‘take your hook?’” But I didn’t know, and so, in default, to cut matters short, we took ours.
There was no escaping the ubiquitous tune that was our “only wear” in matters musical last year.137 The very trains that rattled one down to the sounding sea pounded it out to the alert ear as they ran along the metals; the fly-man, who drove you at a crawling pace to your “digs.,” whistled it; and your landlady’s daughter (“a dear good girl, sir, an’ clever at ’er music, which she takes after me in, though I ses it as shouldn’t. Play the gentleman something, there’s a love”) thumped it out unmercifully. Seaside landladies, by the way, have always, by some strange dispensation of Providence, three things apparently inseparable from their race—a daughter, a piano, and a sea-view. The daughter plays on the piano, and the landlady harps upon the view—both musical, you see. Most, also, have “seen better days,” and as it usually rains when I visit those yellow sands, the statement admits of no dispute.
The coast here is serrated with tiny bays, from which run valleys, called in Devonshire “coombes,” or “combes,” variously. Of these, Watcombe is perhaps best known. Sometimes the combe has become a town, as at Babbacombe.
Maidencombe is one of the smallest and prettiest of those deep and narrow valleys, clothed with a rich vegetation, and thickly wooded with giant elms, retired, and, what Devonshire folk call “loo,” or “lew,” that is, sheltered. There is, indeed, a secluded parish in Devon to whose name this commendatory adjective is prefixed—Lew Trenchard, to wit—noteworthy also138 as being the home of that strenuous author, the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould. On the other hand, there is yet another Lew in Devon—North Lew—in the northern part of the county, a wild, stormy, bleak, misbegotten place, whose name was probably conferred in derision by some deluded inhabitant; it is the place where, according to the local saying, the devil died of the cold!
139 Watcombe we passed, with its towering red rocks rising sheer out of the coombe; and, after toiling up hill and down dale, arrived at Babbacombe, a fairy settlement of villas adjoining Torquay’s suburb of Marychurch. Red sandstone rocks give place to lofty limestone cliffs, clothed in luxuriant foliage, and skirted about their base with beaches of rounded limestone pebbles of every size, smoothed and polished by constant friction of the water.
We took tea at the Carey Arms, upon the lawn that gives on the water; and admired, with the fleeting tourist’s regretful admiration, those blood-red and milk-white cliffs, and that foreshore of the whitest, hugest, and hardest marbles, and that sea of the most bewitching and impossible light-blue—impossible, that is to say, from the point of view of he or she who would transfer it to canvas—and bewildered brush-wielders are here the commonest objects of the seashore. Not the least of the things for which Torquay and Babbacombe are responsible are the wasting of good paint and the spoiling of many acres of fair primed canvas.
Beauty, you see, of any sort, is never harmless.
Leaving Babbacombe, we turned aside to visit Anstey’s Cove, that deep pool, guarded by ghostly pinnacles of rocks, and overhung with silver birch and brambles. Who was Anstey, and why was this cave named after him? Who, again (forgive the digression), was Tooks, and why was a court in Holborn made ridiculous with his name? We can only fold our hands, and say in either case, “We don’t know.”
140 Anstey’s Cove is a favourite bathing-place, and has at its entrance from the road a famous sign. The sign has been here for years, and is become quite a time-honoured institution. The original “Thomas,” I fear, is long since gathered to his fathers.
Excellent and most moral Thomas! Mindful both of provisions and the proprieties, your truly British characteristics shall excuse your errors of rhyme and rhythm; and though your lines don’t scan, I trust your actions là bas have attained a ready scansion là haut.
And now Torquay is near, happily situated on a down grade, for which praise be. But let us be duly reverent, for Torbay, shining yonder in the afternoon sun, is the gate by which entered, “for our goods,” as Fraulein Kilmansegg innocently observed, the Hanoverian dynasty, to save a nation which could not save itself.
When first I saw Torquay and Torbay (I am afraid to think how many years ago), and the long line141 of curving coast stretching away past parvenu Paignton to Berry Head, I thought that here was a veritable fairyland amongst seaside resorts. Many things have happened since then: the South Devon coast, once so solitary, so quiet, has everywhere its fringe of trim-built villas; the lonely coombes, once the home of rabbits and some few fishermen, echoing only with the querulous cries of sea-gulls, are now filled, or are filling, with bungalows, as quick-multiplying as were those ousted rabbits, and the brazen clang of German bands makes miserable the soul of man. These are the defects that make this fairyland of other years something less gracious and more prosaic than before; but bungalows and bands, and other kindred afflictions of a popular populous watering-place, have power only to discount, not altogether to bankrupt, its charm.
And charming is still the epithet for Torquay, seated majestically on its many hills. So charming is it, that the witchery of the place gets into the head of the average young man o’ nights, like so much champagne, and sitting by one of the many hillside winding walks overlooking the bay, you may hear him declare to his inamorata that he loves her with a love transcending all other affections, past, present, or to come. And so these silly folk become engaged, and, one of these fateful days, they marry and go a-honeymooning in the Isle of Wight (an isle ordained by the Creator for such functions), presently to discover that life is not made up altogether of summer nights at Torquay, nor at Shanklin neither; also that, however warmly one may love,142 still number one remains, after all, when the flush of romance has worn off, the object of the most jealous and enduring affection. You see, Torquay is responsible for a great deal of match-making. Young folks have in after years much reason to cur—well, er, that is, to bless, the place.
How many declarations have I heard while lounging at twilight on the Cliff Walk! How many gay and giddy flirtations at Anstey’s Cove or Berry Pomeroy! Ah! delusive coast of Devon, inciting to the rashest of all conceivable rashnesses, you have proved the undoing of many a butterfly bachelor.
I have said enough to convince you, I think, that Torquay is a dangerous place. It is all the more so, in that, being essentially modern, there is nothing in the way of antiquities to explore in the town itself. This fact, together with that other of a warm and languorous climate, that invites to rest rather than to recreative efforts, to whispered confidences, to tentative kissing and waist-clasping on the sheltered Rock Walk above the Torbay road, shapes softly the social features of Torquay and the plastic destinies of youth.
To leave these features and come to consideration of scenic charms, there can be no higher praise than to say that at night Torquay picturesqueness reaches the acme of theatric scene-painting. To return, when the moon is shining, to Torquay from Paignton, is to experience a thrill of decorative pleasure that few other places can confer. A great bar of silver moonlight, all alive with ripples, mingles with terrestrial illuminations of villas and climbing hillside roads,143 garish yellow by comparison. Below, in the harbour, red and green and yellow lights of smacks and vessels of many builds dance in streaky minuets upon lazy tides, while on the horizon the mast-head lanterns of Brixham boats rise and fall giddily from crest to trough of Channel waves.
Torquay has many climates, from the warm and dense atmosphere of Fleet Street and Union Street to the mellow lapping of Torbay air by the rise of Park Hill, or the robustious breezes of Warberry Hill, farther inland. And thus Torquay pleases every variety of the querulous invalid: these feeble folk lie here in strata, elevated or depressed, as best befits their individual complaints.
Since Dutch William landed at Brixham, and so marched through Torquay to Newton Abbot with his heavy crew of Hollanders, the place has had no history save only the smooth and simple annals of what auctioneers and land-agents call a “rising watering-place.” And Torquay has been rising any time these hundred years, until it has at length been blessed with the left-handed blessings of a Mayor and Corporation. These be weighty matters, and Torquay celebrated its Charter Day last year with all the becoming pomp of so great and glorious an occasion. Minor happenings there have been that remain tinged with the bitter irony of circumstance, as when Napoleon, a captive on board the Bellerophon (the “Billy Ruffian” of an untutored crew reckless of the classics) was brought into Torbay, within sight of the diminutive Torquay of that time. The conquered conqueror was reduced to the status of144 a Richardson’s show, to be peeped at by that “nation of shopkeepers” which he had so gratuitously despised.3 That nation, or rather, this southern coast portion of it, had been not a little uneasy at Napoleon’s preparations for invasion, and had been strenuously devising defences, with quaking hearts; while the populace sang, to keep its pecker up, such reassuring songs about the improbable, as that of which the following stanza is a specimen:—
After which followed the rousing chorus—
And these matters are Torquay’s sole concern with political history. Happy town, say I.
Three miles of a delightfully undulating road that leads close by the shores of the bay, and at length we reached Paignton about nine o’clock. Paignton lives on the leavings of Torquay, and a decent145 subsistence they seem to afford. It is unromantically celebrated for its cabbages, and peculiar for the German nomenclature of its hotels. The whole place is singularly and indecently Teutonic, a sort of Pumpernickel, and its chief street might appropriately be termed the Donnerwetterplatz, from the epithets called from us by its promiscuous stones. One anachronism there is in this Germanic town—German bands are plenty. We know, do we not, that these pests are found everywhere but in the land of their birth. But, come to think of it, where does the German band practise? The flippant will say that to assume any practice on their part would be an assumption of wildest extravagance; but, seriously, they must practise sometimes and somewhere; but where and when? Did you ever hear them at it? Did you ever see a dead donkey? Never! I have heard volunteer bands practise and have survived—chastened ’tis true. They have their drill-halls in which to harmonise in some sort; but (fearful thought) German bands must practise in their lodgings. I can think of few things more dreadful than to be their ill-fated neighbour.
Paignton is (equally with Washington) a place of magnificent distances, abounding in spacious roads all innocent of houses, or, at best, but sparsely built upon. But this is its modern part. The old town, which lies farther back from the sea, clustering round the red-sandstone tower of its ancient parish church, is close enough settled and occupied, and, judging from the size and beauty of that church, was at one time greater than now. There was of146 old a bishop’s palace at Paignton, and there yet remain sundry traces of it, among them a stalwart tower, wherein (says tradition) Miles Coverdale, some time Bishop of Exeter, made his famous translation of the Bible. Tradition, I regret to say, has in this instance grievously misled the devout; and, although the present historian yields to none in his love and admiration of a comely and well-rounded falsehood, it becomes his duty to destroy this interesting but misleading myth.
If I thought the audience to which these poor notes (one must be at least ostensibly modest!) are addressed would bear with me, I would describe the antiquarian treasures of Paignton Church, for they merit a moment’s stay. However, I forbear, although one cannot help quoting this inscription to the memory of “Mistress Joan Butland and son:”—
“In Night of death, here Rests ye gooD, &
fair, who all life Day, Gave God Both heart
and ear, no Dirt (nor Distance) hinDerD
her Resort, for love still Pav’D ye way, &
cut it short, to Parents, husBanD, frienDs
none Better knew, ye triBute of Duty &
she PaiD it tow, BeloveD By, & loving
all Dearly, her son to whom she
first Gave life, then lost her owne
he kinD Poor lamB for his Dam a full
Year crieD, alas in vain, ther for for
love he DieD Anno Domi 1679.”
From Paignton to Totnes the road leads inland by easy gradients past Blagdon, where nobody ever did anything worthy of record, until, in four miles,147 the little village of Berry Pomeroy is reached. This is the old road; the new highway, about one and a half miles out of Paignton, turns to the left, and in a lonely course reaches Totnes. The road past Blagdon to Berry is good, but the matter of a mile longer. That, however, is no matter to the tourist, when, by that additional mile, so charming a ruin as that of Berry Pomeroy Castle is gained. These shattered walls and courts are hidden in deep lusty woods, resonant with the throaty gurglings of doves and wood-pigeons, teeming with a populace of squirrels, and moist with the invigorating rills that percolate everywhere, unseen but potent, amid the148 tangled undergrowth. Nothing now remains of the original stronghold: the great gateway and curtain-wall belong to the thirteenth century, and all else is of more modern date. The Pomeroys were of ancient descent, even when Ralph de la Pomeroy accompanied William the Norman from fair Normandy. The name has a sweet savour as of cider, for “pomeraie” means apple orchard, and from some such fruity demesne these Norman lords first took their name. It is a lengthy stride, though, from the Arcadian simplicity of the orchard, the fragrance of pomace, to the tilt-yard and the baronial hall.
From Ralph these estates passed down through the centuries to that Sir Thomas Pomeroy who, engaging in the futile rebellion of 1549, was stripped of all his manors, which fell into the hands of the Lord Seymour of Sudeley, brother to the Lord Protector, Duke of Somerset, and to this day they remain in that family. The Seymours builded all these courts and upstanding walls, now grass-grown and broken, or ivy-hung, that are enclosed by the ancient circumvallation. Defence was not a matter of such tremendous exiguity in the reign of Edward VI., when (or thereabouts) these Tudor walls and window-heads were freshly fashioned; comfort was of greater consideration, and that, by all accounts, was well studied. But with the reign of James II. came the ruination of Berry. Some have it that lightning destroyed the great range of buildings, but that is matter of tradition merely. Certain it is that never since that day have they been inhabited, “and all this glory” (as Prince hath it) “lieth in the dust.”
149 Prince himself, author of “Worthies of Devon,” and vicar of Berry Pomeroy, lies within the church, where Seymours and superseded Pomeroys lie close together—quietly enough. The Protector’s son, Lord Edward Seymour, lies here in effigy. He died (you learn) in 1593. His son, too, rests beside, and amid them sleeps this child, done in stone, humorously, as it seems to us, looking upon those radiant Dutch-like features.
From woody dells and time-greyed walls to the highroad and modern Bridgetown, the suburb of Totnes, seemed a sorry change, though without the loveliness of Berry it had been fair enough. Bridgetown lies on one side of a narrow valley, Totnes on150 the other, and between them runs the Dart, crossed by a very serviceable, very modern, very uninteresting bridge, that stands sponsor to the suburb.
Totnes, say the historians, is the oldest, or one of the oldest, borough towns in England, founded, we are asked to believe, by Brutus the Trojan. We will not dispute the point: as well he as any one else. I will not (being transparently candid) deny that this particular Brutus seems to me, after this length of time, to be a very uninteresting person—a prosy fellow—one to be avoided.
But we will not, an’t please you, so readily drop the subject of Totnes town: that would not do, for not many such picturesque places remain in the south of England. Fore Street, which seems in these Devon towns to stand for High Street—although in some places in the county they are happy in the possession of both—Fore Street, Totnes, is a fine example of the unstudied, fortuitous, picturesque, from the projecting houses that overhang the pavements at one end, to the Eastgate that spans the street at the other, amid all the bustle and business of a town that, it would seem, is little affected by depression of the agricultural industries, upon which it lives.
There is a fine church at Totnes, with a stone pulpit, carved and gilt and painted to wonderment, and the tower of that church is among the best in Devon, an architectural dream, in ruddy sandstone, pinnacled, and adorned with tabernacles containing figures of kings and saints, benefactors, bishops, and pious founders. For aught I know (so lofty is their152 eyrie) Judhael de Totnais is of the company. This Judhael was one of the Conqueror’s host of filibusters, who, receiving his due share of plunder in the form of fat manors, settled at the chiefest of them, built himself a castle on a likely site, and, like some old regiments under modern War-Office administration, took a territorial title, “De Totnais.”
His castle (what remains of it) stands on a steep and lofty mound of earth at the northern end of the town, overlooking the streets and clustering roofs, and commanding a glorious panorama of the river Dart, winding deep amid the trees toward Dartmouth and the sea. These castle remains are very meagre: a low circular keep-tower, open to the sky, perched on an eminence studded thickly with tall trees—that is all. Below is a garden, with closely shaven lawn, where young men and maidens play tennis in summer months. Outside, in the street, an ancient archway, which was once the North Gate of the town, still stands.
There is, in the retiring little Guildhall of Totnes, standing behind the church, sufficient interest for an especial visit. Low-browed rooms, oak-panelled, with leaden casemented windows set in deep embrasures, with dusky, glowering portraits of old-time worthies hanging against the walls—these are characteristic items toward a due presentment of the place. Here, too, are framed proclamations of Commonwealth period, commencing “Oliver, by the grace of God.” Oliver, you shall see, is nothing less than “His Highness.”
And now, having “done” the town, do not, I153 pray you who may essay to follow our wanderings, set out upon walking hence to Dartmouth. Rather should you voyage by steamer those eight miles, at your ease physically and mentally, this last happy condition attained by reflecting that such scenery is not otherwhere to be enjoyed, and that to voyage thus is the thing expected of all good tourists in South Devon.
We took steamer from Totnes to Dartmouth. There are two classes aboard, “saloon” and “second,” and there is but threepence difference between the two. But the Wreck, who was paymaster this day, and is ever economically inclined, prudently bought two of the cheaper tickets, “for,” said he, “we are not travelling en grande tenue” (terms for translation may be had on application). So we took our places astern, and in due course arrived off the pontoon at Dartmouth. The Wreck, who was in charge of the pasteboards, handed them up.
“Sixpence more, please,” said the collector.
“What for?” demanded the Wreck.
“You can see the notice,” replied the man; and he pointed to an inscription, “Passengers going abaft the funnel must pay saloon fare.”
“But we didn’t go abaft the funnel,” said the Wreck; “we sat behind all the time.”
“Behind is abaft,” remarked the collector....
The Wreck paid the sixpence. “But,” said he, “I154 wish, next time you paint your boat, you would write up decent English instead of your confounded nautical slang, which no fellow can understand.” And so, as Pepys might have said, into Dartmouth, where we lay at the King’s Head.
The situation of Dartmouth is eminently characteristic of the seaport towns of South Devon and Cornwall. It lies, like so many of them, at the mouth of a little river, which, running almost due south for an inconsiderable number of miles, widens at last into an estuary that gives on the sea through a narrow opening between tall cliffs. On the inner side of this strait and dangerous gut, the storm-tossed mariner, wearied of Channel waves, rides in a deep, land-locked harbour, at peace, and on the shores of this harbour there springs up a town to supply the wants of them that go down to the sea in ships. From Exmouth in the east to Falmouth in the west, the same conditions are seen. Sometimes the town stands on the western side of the estuary, sometimes on the eastern shore; but almost every one of them has in time developed its suburb over the water. Exmouth has its Starcross, Teignmouth its Shaldon. Opposite Dartmouth, on the eastern side of Dartmouth harbour, stands Kingswear, and over against Salcombe is Portlemouth. Torpoint, that stands on the western shore of the Hamoaze, is an essentially modern excrescence from155 Devonport. East and West Looe seem to be coeval one with the other—those jealous towns of Looe River; but Polruan is the dependency of Fowey, even as Flushing is of Falmouth.
Dartmouth can hold its own among the best of these havens, even as Dartmouth town is easily first in picturesque beauty and hoary survivals of early seafaring days. I think a waft of more spacious times has come down to us, and lingers yet about the steep streets and strange stairways, the broad eaves and bowed and bent frontages of Dartmouth—an air in essence salty, and ringing with the strange oaths and stranger tales of the doughty hearts who adventured hence to unknown or unfrequented seas, or went forth to do battle with the Spaniard. Hence sailed crusaders, and Dartmouth came a splendid third to Fowey and Yarmouth in 1342, when the port sent as many as thirty-one sail for the investment of Calais. Followed then descents of the French upon these coasts, succeeded in turn by ravagements on the seaboard of France at the hands of Dartmouth and Plymouth men, when two score French ships were destroyed. Then came in 1404 the French admiral, Du Chastel, who landed at Blackpool Valley, three miles to the westward, with the object of taking Dartmouth from an unsuspected quarter. But this project failed of accomplishment; the storm-beaten tower of Stoke Fleming church looked down that day upon the secluded valley where, upon the sands of that curving shore, by the tree-grown banks of a rivulet that loses itself in diminutive swamps, the clang of battle echoed all day156 from the hillsides, and Dartmouth men gave so good an account of themselves that four hundred Frenchmen dead, and two hundred prisoners, with Du Chastel himself, completed the tale of that day’s doings.
But Blackpool was a landing-place to be attempted only in fine weather. Dartmouth harbour was the natural entrance. To guard it there were built, in ancient times, the twin-towers of Dartmouth and Kingswear Castles, facing one another, across the water, and between them was stretched an iron chain, drawn taut by windlasses in time of peril, which effectually prevented the entrance of hostile ships. Kingswear Castle is comparatively insignificant, but Dartmouth Castle, viewed from the Kingswear side, forms, with the adjoining church of Saint Petrox, a striking group, backed by the lofty tree-clad hills of Gallants’ Bower. A modern fort, built into the rock beside the sea, adds a modern touch. Saint Petrox contains brasses to Roopes in plenty, one of the inscriptions, curiously beautiful, for all its spelling:—
157 By this time my sketch-book was filled, and we went to a bookseller’s to buy another, finally purchasing a ship’s log-book for the purpose. It was ruled with faint blue lines, unfortunately (what stationers term “feint only”), but the paper of it took pencil beautifully. I think we left the bookseller’s assistant with but a poor estimate of our artistic powers, for he seemed consumed with astonishment at the choice, and grieved when I flouted the gorgeous sketch-books, oblong in shape, and lettered in big gold lettering on their covers, that he would have us buy. “All artists,” said he, “use these;” but we took leave to doubt the statement, and left them for the use of the bread-and-butter miss.
Then, armed with this formidable book, we explored the old parish church (Saint Saviour’s) of Dartmouth, and started off “at score” with the sketch of ironwork on the doorway of the south porch. “Exploration” seems quite the word for an examination of Dartmouth church: it is old and decrepit, and rendered dusky by wooden galleries—a wonderfully and almost inconceivably picturesque building, without and within, and (what is not often seen nowadays) a very much unrestored church. It was in 1887 (I think) that a scheme for restoration was set afoot, when the great controversy between the vicar and the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings took place. The society wished the church to be let alone; the vicar wanted “restoration.” He plaintively remarked that the roof leaked on to him while he preached; and I seem to recollect that he was obliged to use an umbrella in158 the pulpit on wet Sundays, but of this I am not quite sure.
The outcome of this wordy war was a compromise: the roof was made watertight, and the restoration generally was dropped like a hot potato.
Dartmouth church is closely girdled with old houses and steep streets, paved with painful but romantic-looking cobbles, and the churchyard rears itself high above the heads of wayfarers in the narrow lanes. Here is the town gaol, rarely or never159 used, save for the paternal detention of derelict drunkards, who, lest they should break their good-for-nothing necks down these staircase-streets, are locked within until the morrow comes, with sobriety and headache as co-parceners.
Dartmouth, you gather, who read municipal notices and proclamations fastened on the church door, is a composite borough—Clifton-Dartmouth-Hardness is its official style and title; but it would, I suspect, puzzle even antiquarians to delimit their respective territories at this time. We idly culled the information as we passed one morning for a day’s excursion to Dittisham.
They call it three and a half miles from Dartmouth to Dittisham; we made it, I should say, about eight; but there is no occasion for any one who essays to follow our route to emulate this shocking example.
160 Those eight miles were all either up or down hill. A spirit-level wouldn’t get the ghost of a chance anywhere along these lanes, for, the moment you get atop of a hill, it begins to descend again.
We had just reached the bottom of a long hill when we met a countryman of whom we inquired the way.
“Did ye coom from oop yon?” said he.
“Yes,” we replied, with forebodings of disaster.
“Then you’ve coom aout of y’r way,” he said; “ye’ll have to go oop and take th’ next turn to th’ right.”
We took his directions, and were rewarded by presently coming into Dittisham, in receipt, by the way, of a sudden and startling view of Torquay and Marychurch, eight miles away as the crow flies, and yet perfectly clear and distinct.
Down through Dittisham lanes we went, past the great grey tower of the church, with its sun-dial, on to the beach of the river at ebb. Here were several plum trees, loaded with plums; a small variety, dark blue, more like damsons, and hard, and not too sweet. We, I grieve to say, plucked many of these plums and ate them; but there was a Nemesis attendant on the act.
The beach was practicable for some distance, until the water on one side, and a high padlocked gate decorated with spikes and nails on the other, seemed to bar all further progress. We carefully scaled the gate, and dropped into the meadows on the other side, leaving a record of our progress in the shape of a fragment of the Wreck’s clothing fluttering aloft161 in the breeze. A toilsome climb through many fields and thick hedges brought us to a vantage point, whence we could see our goal—Dittisham Quay—below, situated on a narrow isthmus beside the Dart, where the river doubled on its course. Close beside it miraculously appeared the village we had left. We had painfully traversed three miles of this promontory, instead of crossing the narrow neck of land that alone separated village and quay.
Tea was a grateful meal indeed after this. We took it at the open windows of an inn that looked upon the water, and when the meal was done the sun went down. The air grew intensely chill, and the mists crept along the face of the water. I had just touched in the last notes of Dittisham Quay, when the whistle of the steamer sounded up river, and the vessel came swiftly round the Point. We were the only passengers from Dittisham, and were soon put aboard. This steamer was one of the smaller boats that ply on the Dart, with furnace and boiler-covering on deck. We sat on the hot iron, the Wreck and I, and felt happy as the heat worked through. Now and again the crew (two all told) would open the furnace door, and the light from the glowing coals would shine on their faces with a ruddy glow, intensified by the steely-blue water and the dark background of hills, until they looked like so many devils from hell.
We nearly ran down in the darkness a small launch, whose occupant had (one of the crew observed) suddenly “shifted his hellum”—whatever that may mean, and then we ran alongside the Britannia and the162 Hindostan training-vessels, with their lights streaming brilliantly through many ports on to the tide.
Those two sturdy old line-of-battle ships, with their lofty sides and long ranges of ports, tier over tier, are of types more seemly, more impressive, than the wallowing masses of ironmongery that to-day are in the forefront of our navy. They recall the days when England was well defended against tremendous odds by her wooden walls, superseded in these days by intricate machinery, inconstant and uncertain in time of need, and misdirected from Westminster by wooden heads that unluckily show no signs of supersession.
The moon had risen over Kingswear when our throbbing cockle-shell stopped her heart-beats and was warped gently against the pontoon, and the shine tipped every little ripple in the harbour with silver, making silhouettes of Kingswear houses and hills. Two red lights shone from the landing-stage, and a number of other lights glimmered yellow by comparison with the moon’s rays; other hills were of a velvety blackness, and against them stood out the slim white masts and spars of the many yachts anchored out in mid-stream. The little pencillings of light that played upon the water added to the charm of the scene and the witchery of it. You cannot convey a sense of its beauty by words; it cannot, indeed, be conveyed at all. Take the charmingest effect of stage scenery that you have ever seen, and add a Shylock-like percentage, then you are by way of a conception of the surpassing beauty of Dartmouth harbour on a summer’s night.
Little yellow coaches run three times daily from Dartmouth to Kingsbridge and vice versâ, running winter and summer. We walked out of Dartmouth as far as Stoke Fleming—three miles. What shall I say of the country, save that it was hilly? I think we walked to the village through some dim recollections of the name and fame of Thomas Newcomen, who invented the steam-engine, lived and died at Dartmouth, and was buried here. They say his first notion of steam power was gained through watching the steam from his kettle lifting the lid, but do they not also say the same of James Watt?
After all we did not find much of interest in Stoke Fleming church, and saw nothing of Thomas Newcomen’s tomb. But, on the other hand, we saw and copied the curious epitaph to his ancestor, Elias Newcomen, who was vicar here. It is a small mural brass, on the south chancel pier:—
A fourteenth-century brass, to the memory of John and Elyenore Corp, with curious French and Latin epitaph, was interesting. Then we heard the horn of the coach, and rushed out just in time to secure our164 seats. With our advent the coach became filled. We of the outside were tourists all. All the way the gentleman-driver and the passenger beside him talked “horse,” and some of the talk was very tall indeed.
We passed down extremely steep roads, through Blackpool valley, from thence up again, through the miserable village of Street down at last to Slapton Sands, the driver throwing out, now and again, packages of newspapers as we passed various estates.
Slapton Sands is a three miles’ stretch of shore, with a perfectly straight and level coach road the whole distance. On one side is the sea, and on the other the waters and marshes of Slapton Lea—fresh water on one hand, salt on the other: the Sands Hotel between.
Our coach stopped a moment to unload some luggage for the sportsmen staying here, for the fishing and the wild-fowl shooting are famous; then on again to Torcross, where we changed horses. At this modern settlement the road turns inland, and goes, through comparatively uninteresting country, past Stokenham, Chillington, and Charleton. Then over a sturdy bridge spanning a creek, and at last upon the road that borders Salcombe River, and leads past the Quay into Kingsbridge.
The coach rattled up to the “Anchor,” at the foot of the steep Fore Street of Kingsbridge. We discharged our obligations to the gentleman-driver, secured our beds, and ordered dinner, eventually despatched amid the litter of our mail from London, which was duly lying at Kingsbridge Post-Office on our arrival. The Wreck, knowing (good soul) that it would be impossible165 otherwise for me to keep my attention off my proofs, filched those entrancing sheets away, and sat on them until the advent of the coffee.
But let us have done with these domestic details: what of Kingsbridge?
Kingsbridge at the time of writing is chiefly noted for its being ten miles from the nearest railway station; but when these lines see the crowning glory of print, it will probably have lost that claim to distinction, for there is now building a branch to it from the main line at Brent, and when that branch is opened, Lord alone knows what the place will do for name or notoriety, unless indeed it can keep the mild fame of its “white ale” in the forefront, together with what kudos may accrue from the sister parish (of Dodbrooke) having been the birthplace of Dr. John Wolcot.
For “Peter Pindar” was born at Dodbrooke in 1738, and has he not immortalised the twin-towns of Kingsbridge and Dodbrooke in one of his “Odes to my Barn”? The first ode was called forth by the Doctor’s sheltering a persecuted band of strolling players, who ran no small risk of stocks and pillory.
You will see by these last few lines that “Peter” had a good conceit of himself, and I must confess that I like him all the more for it. The same spirit flows through all his works in artless (or is it artful) manner; certainly it spurred his enemies (and they were many) to unseemly exhibitions of wrath in their retaliatory versicles, in which they could by no means match the flowing metre and sarcasm of Dr. Wolcot’s spiteful muse. Here is a specimen of the attacks upon him, which derives its point from his profession—the cheapness of the gibe is obvious:—
This versifier was a champion of George III., whom Wolcot was never weary of satirising for his meanness and parsimony and general dunderheadedness. That monarch was an excellent butt into which to fire arrows of stinging satire; in especial, his eccentric habit of incessantly repeating his words is delightfully taken advantage of, as, for example, in that extremely witty description of “A Royal Visit to Whitbread’s Brewery”—
John Wolcot was in early life apprenticed to his uncle, an apothecary of Fowey. After accompanying Sir William Trelawney to Jamaica, as physician, he took holy orders, and was presented to a living in the island.
Returning to England and his old profession, he settled at Truro and Helston, finally removing to London in 1780, and bringing with him young Opie, whom he had discovered in the wilds of Mithian. In old age he became blind, and died in London 1819, and was buried in St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden.
When I say that Kingsbridge market-house has a turnip-like clock, I would not have you suspect me of flouting this prosperous little town, the market centre for the rich agricultural district of the South Hams. I would not do such a thing: my intentions169 are strictly honourable. Believe me, I simply and dispassionately state a grotesque fact, which you may verify from the drawing of Kingsbridge, and parallel from the almost exactly similar clock of St. Anne’s, Soho.
This morning we looked into Kingsbridge church, and copied the philosophic epitaph to “Bone Phillip,”6 and then to the Grammar School, a sturdy stone building, with the following inscription over its doorway:—
This Grammar School was
Built and Endowed 1670
Thomas Crispin of ye City of
Exon Fuller, who was Born in
this Town ye 6th of Jan 160–7/8
Lord wt I have twas Thou yt Gavst it me
And of Thine owne this I Return to Thee.
There is a large portrait of Crispin still hanging on the principal staircase, rich in tone, representing the benefactor with the broadest of broad-brimmed hats and walking-cane—a mild-featured gentleman. And yet he is the terror of small boys, who hold the belief that this gentle soul comes forth at midnight from his frame, carrying his head under his arm. I170 have slept in the bedroom he is supposed particularly to affect in his nightly wanderings, but (needless to say) Crispin did not disturb me.
There is, too, in the low-pitched, panelled schoolroom a headmaster’s desk, with canopy, worthy of note, surmounted with a painting of the Royal Arms, and the initials “C. R.,” with the date 1671; and, on every available inch of woodwork, schoolboys, more destructive than Time himself, have carved their names or daubed them in ink, evidences these of that noble rage for recognition, fame, or notoriety, of that yearning for immortality, that possesses all alike from cockney ’Enry upward.
171 I think something of this feeling impelled one of us to the writing of these lines in the visitors’ book of the “Anchor,” where we stayed. Here they are—
We left Kingsbridge as evening drew on, for the five miles’ voyage to Salcombe. The steamer was full of country folk, and a few tourists were observable amid the market baskets. Next to us sat a young fellow and his newly married wife, evidently on their honeymoon, and desperately ill at ease. Every one on board, although none of them were acquainted with those young people, knew their case, and they were the centre to which all eyes were directed. Few noticed the scenery while this human interest was on view, although that scenery was most impressive.
The quasi river of Salcombe, seen under a gorgeous sunset with lowering clouds, is not so much lovely as weird, its lonely creeks and inlets running between hills almost treeless, and black against the sky. We passed the excursion steamer coming home to Kingsbridge from Plymouth, with its white mast-head light,172 and green and red side-lights, the hull of her looming hugely as she rushed by.
Presently our engines stopped, and in sight of Salcombe lights across the water, we landed a party in the darkness of a lonely shore for Portlemouth. Passengers and luggage were tumbled into the boat, and soon were lost to view in the gloom; only the splashing of the oars, the rattle of rowlocks, and the murmur of voices indicating their neighbourhood. When the boat returned we steamed across to Salcombe Quay, and landed under the glittering lights of the precipitous town; glittering, that is to say,173 from a distance: near at hand they have more the shine of glow-worms.
It is a thrilling experience to land thus, on a Saturday night, in an entirely strange place, and to have, perforce, to hunt immediately for a night’s lodging. We traversed the long narrow street of Salcombe without success, and finally arrived opposite the glare of an imposing house.
“Do you want the hotel, sir?” inquired a Voice.
“Yes; which hotel is this?” demanded the Wreck, directing his voice at the place generally, failing to see any one.
“The Marine Hotel, sir!”
Now, we had heard something of the palatial character of this hotel, and recollecting the traditional shortness of the artist’s purse, we trembled!
“Oh!” said the Wreck, replying to the Voice, “rather expensive hotel, is it not?”
“Yes, sir,” replied the Voice, suddenly becoming endowed with a body—Boots apparently—“first-class hotel, sir.”
This meant waiters in evening dress and haughty chambermaids. What should we dusty wayfarers do in this galley, who carried our luggage on our backs? No landlord of a “first-class hotel” respects a visitor who has not piles of portmanteaux. We faded away from the glance of that candid Boots into the (comparatively) utter darkness, and so down the street again, presently to find that haven where we would be.
We supped, and the Wreck discovered a crumb-brush. “A brush at last!” he exclaimed, vigorously brushing his hat with it.
174 “But that’s not a hat-brush,” said I, astonished.
“No matter,” said he, “brushes are so jolly scarce down here that I’d take this chance if it were a hearth-brush.”
Salcombe streets are of the most break-neck character: full of tragic possibilities and large stones. Only Fore Street is approximately level, and in Fore Street are the shops. Such shops! We looked into one window, about three feet square, and made a mental inventory of its contents:—Six Spanish onions; a plateful of wooden dolls, leering with vacuous glances at a tin of sardines; four tin money-boxes; three plates of apples (incarnate stomach-aches); a cake of blacking; two cakes of soap (whose name wild horses shall not drag from me); five peg-tops; one plum cake; and, casting a greasy light over all, a tallow dip in a brass candlestick. Other shops there were which rejoiced in large frontages and wide expanses of window, and, displayed in those windows, were goods disposed at rare and rhythmic intervals, so that one had not the heart to destroy their symmetry by making purchases.
Salcombe is a port of great possibilities. Were it not so near a neighbour of Plymouth Sound, that haven par excellence, it had been, one may surmise, a well-frequented harbour, with a town rivalling Dartmouth. For here is safe anchorage for ships of deepest draught, and sea-room in plenty within the gullet formed between precipitous cliffs. Even yet, Salcombe may become a harbour where masts will cluster thickly. True, the channel is beset175 with rocks, but what do rocks avail against dynamite? Now it is seldom visited save by pleasure yachts and stray coasting-vessels, with the Kingsbridge Packet calling periodically at its quay en route to or from Plymouth. Salcombe village has grown into a small town of quiet residents, and equally quiet holiday-makers, and possibly in the near future the Kingsbridge Railway, now building, may push on these few miles further, bringing to the solitary coast scenery of the Bolt Head—the grandest in Devon—a crowd of tourists, with the inevitable consequences.
On this Sunday we stayed at Salcombe, and with due Sabbatical languor explored the fantastic pinnacles of Bolt Head, beautiful with the lowering beauty of a dark and sullen savagery. It is a wild and storm-tossed promontory on the seaward side of a beautiful estate belonging to the Earl of Devon—a place bearing the singular name of The Moult. Down in the bottom, where the Moult homestead stands sheltered, the tall elms grow straight and comely; but on the hillside, trees of all kinds cling tenaciously in gnarled, twisted, and stunted forms, all bent in the direction in which stormy winds most do blow. Down beside the water, facing the entrance to the harbour, stand the remains of Salcombe Castle, washed with the waves of every high tide. Salcombe Castle was the scene of a four months’ defence against the beleaguering Roundheads, and when it at last surrendered, the garrison marched out with all the honours of war, “with thire usuall armes, drumes beating, and collars176 flyinge, with boundelars full of powder, and muskets apertinable.”
We were up early this morning, in order to catch the Kingsbridge Packet, which called here on its way to Plymouth, and was timed for eight o’clock. But we need not have hurried over our breakfast to reach the quay, for when we walked aboard on the stroke of eight, the amphibious-looking crew were still busily loading up with the fragments of machinery and steam-pipes salved from a neighbouring wreck, and it was not until nearly an hour later that we were steaming out of the harbour toward the open sea. Meanwhile we secured as decent seats as might be on this grimy cargo-steamer of the old-fashioned paddle description, and watched with considerable amusement the frantic efforts of crew and loafers to push her off from the quay walls. The captain, not, I think, a skipper of coruscating brilliancy, took the wheel, and shouted himself hoarse down the speaking-tube with contrary directions, among which we distinguished such choice expressions as, “Stop her, damn you!” “Easy turn ahead!” “Full turn astern!” while the paddle-box ground horribly against the projecting corners of the quay, and the crew and the crowd of loafers jabbed away violently with long poles.
At last we swung clear, and steamed into the fairway, where we stopped and took two sailing vessels177 in tow. When we had made all fast we started in earnest, and came out of Salcombe round by Bolt Head with much straining and slackening of hawsers, as the two vessels astern pitched and wallowed in the heavy seas.
The morning was chill and misty, and inclined for rain. The rocks of Bolt Head, although we were so near to them, could only now and again be even partially seen through shredded vapours, and all around was a ghostly wall of opalescent fog. The pilot took charge of the wheel—a statuesque figure, silent, impassive, shrouded in gamboge-coloured oilskins, and steadfastly gazing ahead with set eyes under shaggy eyebrows.
We made, as well as we could, a tour of the vessel, laying firm hold of bulwarks and ropes and seats as we went. There were few people aboard, but there was a great deal of miscellaneous cargo on deck, beside the remains of the wrecked steamer’s engine-room. We coasted round a pile of petroleum barrels, coloured that hideous blue which identifies them anywhere; and then one of us fell over a basket full of squawking live ducks, voyaging to Plymouth market. Then, doubling a promontory of empty beer barrels, we came upon the engine-room, smelling to heaven with boiling oil and rancid fat. We could see it, bubbling and greasy, on the hot metal, and that “finished” us. We leant over the side of the vessel, and were very and continuously ill.
I think it must have been after the lapse of a few years that we came in sight of Plymouth Sound.179 Plymouth Sound is perhaps one of the most soul-stirring places in the world to an Englishman who knows its story; but we had had, were having, too much physical stirring to be even languidly interested in it, which shows, by the way, the gross enthraldom of mind by matter: soul-stirring has a poor chance when you’re fearfully sea-sick.
We passed the Mewstone Buoy, and fondly imagined that, as the Breakwater came in sight, the threshing and the buffeting of the sea was done; but, though Plymouth seemed so near, it was a weary three miles yet, and Britannia only rules the waves in a metaphorical sense. Some one who passed us, unmoved by all the uproar of the sea, let off that antique joke. I could have killed him, but refrained: his time will come, without doubt.
We landed at Millbay Docks, and never before was I so pleased to set foot on shore.
The day had brightened considerably. We left our knapsacks at a cloak-room, and set out for a preliminary survey of Plymouth. We made at once for the Hoe: I suppose everybody does the same thing. The Hoe still affords a glorious outlook upon the Sound and the sea beyond, although a great deal of its western end has been quarried away for building operations.
There, third or fifth-rate streets and tramways conspire to render sordid a neighbourhood which any other nation than our own would have kept sacred, both for the satisfying of the æsthetic and the patriotic instinct. But we have, I suppose, despite the wind-bags of that House of Zephyrs at180 Westminster, so much glorious tradition that we can afford the destruction, or partial desecration, of sites historic in the best sense. We can even afford, so imperishable are our laurels, to set up memorials of our achievements in arms, memorials whose uninspired tawdriness would wither with unconscious ridicule the scanty bays of other nations.
What satisfaction, what decorative pleasure is gained in that achievement in ungainly ostentation, the Armada Memorial? Is that rushing termagant with flying petticoats indeed Britannia? and that hairy poodle beside her, is that really the British Lion? The British Lion, pour rire, rather: “The British Lion is a noble scion,” the embodiment of the music halls. This memorial, I suppose, is set up in praiseworthy commemoration of the might of the Mailed Hand; but for all her trident and her sword, this valorous virago, this Britannia, on her pillar, is a creature of finger-nails, scratches, and subsequent hysteria.
Hard by is Drake, modelled in bronze by an alien, for the satisfaction of British patriotism. This work of the ingenious Boehm is not without dignity, viewed from carefully chosen standpoints; but from most points of the compass he is something too cock-a-hoop, he wears too much the air of the sparrow on a ting for our satisfaction. It is well, though, that he should be here in bronze for the healthful admiration and emulation of Englishmen.
If any place there be within these sea-girt isles that can make your pulses thrill, ’tis Plymouth. The majesty of England is no mere phrase to them that181 have seen the clanging dockyards, the arsenals, the floating strongholds, the encircling chain of forts that render the three towns of Plymouth, Devonport, and Stonehouse a microcosm of the empire’s strength. Military—the red coats, the tunics black and green of rifle regiments, the sound of the bugle, instant and commanding, are everywhere. Naval—no more slacks-hitching, timber-shivering towns exist than these.
We conceived the idea of making Saltash our headquarters for a few days, and of making daily excursions from it to explore Plymouth. So, when we had made this preliminary survey, we reclaimed182 our knapsacks and made our way through Plymouth and Stonehouse, on top of a jingling tramcar, to North Corner, Devonport, whence small steam-launches ply every hour for Saltash.
The estuary of the Tamar runs here, deep and broad, dividing the counties of Devon and Cornwall. From here to Saltash (three miles) it is known as the Hamoaze.
It was getting dusky before our launch appeared, and the Cornish shore, where lay the modern town of Torpoint, was become a great grey bank, featureless in the twilight. Great ships lay anchored in the fairway: the transports Hindostan and Himalaya, white painted and beautiful, and several hideous battle-ships, of the latest type, black, and lying low in the water. We could hear the ships’ bells strike the hour in that curious nautical fashion which I, for one, do not understand. To a landsman it was seven o’clock; on board it was “six bells.” Presently lights were hung out aloft, and the ports began to throw gleams upon the hurrying tide. Sheer hulks, lying up river at their last moorings, cast no responsive ray, but, wrapped in darkness, fretted at their buoys and chains, as they have done for long, with every tide. Some one afloat sang the “Larboard Watch,” ashore a bugle sounded; night fell, the stars came out; the name of England, her might and majesty, the glory and the terror of her, filled our hearts too full for words.
Presently the launch came alongside the landing-stage and we went aboard. The voyage was chill with evening winds blowing down the valley of the183 Tamar. We passed a silent fleet of Tartarean looking torpedo-boats, moored, silent and deserted, in a long line, with great white numbers painted on their bows, and towering war-ships, with tall masts and heavy spars, and armoured sides—a type just becoming obsolete, or already become so, we move so fast nowadays.
We ran past hulks, scarlet painted, with stores of gunpowder and gun-cotton aboard; past the Government powder wharf; then to the landing at Bull Point, and soon to Saltash pontoon. We came off the steamer into Saltash streets. Giant piers of Saltash Bridge loomed impressively overhead, and cottages beneath crouched humbly in crowded ways. A piano-organ was discussing interminable strings of curly chords and flourishes, to whose din children were dancing by the light of a waterside public. The sights and sounds effectually vulgarised time and place. We thought, as we toiled up the steep street, that Saltash was an abominable hole, and wished ourselves anywhere else.
Calling at the post-office for letters lying there for us, we chanced to hear of good rooms; so, with only the trouble of walking to the last house but one in the town, we were speedily suited with a resting-place.
Now were we in Cornwall, the land of fairies and piskies, and of prodigious saints and devils; the land of “once upon a time”—delightful period of twilight vagueness. According to John Taylor, who wrote in 1649—
“Cornewall is the Cornucopia, the compleate and repleate Horne of Abundance for high churlish Hills, and affable courteous people; they are loving to requite a kindnesse, placable to remit a wrong, and hardy to retort injuries; the Countrey hath its share of huge stones, mighty Rocks, noble, free, Gentlemen, bountifull housekeepers, strong, and stout men, handsome, beautifull women, and (for any that I know) there is not one Cornish Cuckold to be found in the whole County. In briefe they are in most plentifull manner happy in the abundance of right and left hand blessings.”
We supped, and read our correspondence, and despatched replies, and so to rest in the sweetest smelling of sheets and the downiest of beds, in bedrooms overlooking at a distance the Three Towns, the walls covered with texts and coloured prints representative of the domestic virtues.
In the morning Saltash wore another aspect, and we rather congratulated ourselves upon our choice. From our windows we saw the Hamoaze, the twin-towers of Keyham Yard, and the ships of the navy at anchor, among them the Gorgon, which the irreverent in these parts call the Gorgonzola, one of those turreted battle-ships whose shape and form can be closely imitated by taking a canoe and placing a portmanteau amidships of it, with a drain-pipe185 at top of that, and a walking-stick by way of mast—an unlovely type of vessel.
We were attracted, in the first instance, this morning, to Saint Budeaux, across the river from Saltash; but its singularity of nomenclature proved to be its only striking feature. The place is now becoming a Plymouth suburb, of healthy condition and prosaic appearance, encircled by military roads and forts, with scarps and counterscarps, ravelins and guns, and ↑ War Office marks everywhere. Sir Francis Drake was married in its church, and that, I think, is Saint Budeaux’s only noteworthy incident.
We walked into Plymouth from here, and were thoroughly tired before we reached its streets: distances round Plymouth are deceptive to strangers.
At every turn on the way there were evidences of the sea, either in creeks, where the salt mud lay drying until the next tide, or in distant masts and rigging seen over the house-tops of the town. Town, did I say? Nay, not one, but three towns, for are not Plymouth, Devonport, and Stonehouse coterminous, and famed in song and story as the “Three Towns” in all the distinction that comes of capital letters?
Yet why not four towns? Why should not Stoke Damerel—that name with the look and sound of some new and dreadful composite form of swearing—why should not Stoke Damerel, of ancient name, be accounted a fourth town? It is big enough, and certainly respectable enough, despite its name, which, locally, is Stoke, tout court.
186 But in the growth of new districts here, how comes it that Ford is not a fifth town, nor Morice Town a sixth? These things are not for solution. Let us hie upon the Hoe again, and, by that disestablished tower of Smeaton’s, strain our eyes toward the newer lighthouse anchored on its reef far out to sea.
It is needful to get all the breeze you can before setting out upon any pilgrimage through the Three Towns; for, truly, slums are not peculiar to London. Coming westward, over Laira Bridge, and so through to Torpoint Ferry, they are plenty and noisome; explore the Citadel and the scaly, fishy purlieus of the Barbican; but leave, oh! leave those slums to stew undisturbed.
Better is it to voyage across the Sound to the loveliness and fresh air and altogether sub-tropical domain of Mount Edgcumbe, whence this trinity of towns may be seen stretched out like a plan, with the Hamoaze, the many creeks and pools and inlets running in every direction.
The beauty of Plymouth’s site is, indeed, undeniable, whosoever may disparage it; nor may the splendour of its admirably centralised public buildings be gainsaid. Plymouth Guildhall is one of the most magnificent of modern buildings in the west—Gothic, good in design and execution; its windows, filled with stained glass, representing celebrated scenes in local history, from ancient days until that year in the ’70’s, when the Prince of Wales opened this building. This last event is duly shown in gorgeously tinted glass, but the Prince’s frock-coat is scarcely beautiful nor his silk hat an ideally fit187 subject for treatment in a stained-glass window. Let us laugh!
This morning we rambled down to Antony Passage, on the Lynher River, and hailed the ferryman to put us across to Antony Park, on the opposite shore. The Norman keep of Trematon Castle looks down from the Saltash side on to a mud-creek spanned at its junction with the broad Lynher by one of Brunel’s old wooden railway viaducts, its sturdy timbers stalking across the ooze with curious effect.
Landed on the opposite shore, we walked through the beautifully wooded park, passing Antony House, the seat of the Carews since the fifteenth century. The house was rebuilt in 1721, but contains a fine collection of old masters, among them a portrait of Richard Carew, who died in 1620.
Richard Carew, of Antony, was the author of the well-known “Survey of Cornwall,” published in 1602. In the original edition the work is one of great charm of manner, and the interspersed songs by the author are instinct with grace and nicety of epithet. In a very much later edition the editor has taken upon himself to modernise Carew’s orthography with sorry results to his engaging style.
Not readily could one gather verses of such delightful conceits as these, upon the Lynher River:—
189 And these verses show us the manner of the man:—
Antony village is considerably more than a mile distant from the park. It stands picturesquely on the road to Liskeard, on rising ground, entered past a communal tree, encircled with seats, after a good old fashion that seems nowadays but rarely perpetuated.
190 In the little street of Antony is a library of the most rudimentary type, a little reading-room supported by small subscriptions, and supplied with a few weekly and daily newspapers. We turned the door-handle and walked into this room of 10 × 7 feet; but, alas! there instantly came across the road a woman in whom (evidently) was invested the care of the place, who informed us that this was not a public reading-room, and who held the door open in the most suggestive way. We went.
“I’m sorry,” observed the Wreck upon going, “that we have intruded: I hope we have not injured your shanty.”
“No harm done,” replied the janitress, who was plainly acting upon a painful sense of duty. We adjourned to the church, and after ascending the many steps leading to it, sat down to argue the matter in the porch.
“See,” said the Wreck bitterly, “how despitefully one is used when tramping about on a walking-tour and carrying these abominable things,” and he unstrapped his knapsack with a vicious tug. “That woman ... took us for tramps, and that sort of thing hurts one’s amour propre.”
“Very correct estimate, too,” said I, flicking the dust off my boots with my handkerchief, “and one unlikely to tax her powers of discernment to an inconvenient extent.”
“’Been swallowing a dictionary lately?” inquired the Wreck with biting sarcasm.
“No, Ollendorff, that is not my method.” And then relations became strained.
So it fell out that I explored Antony church alone. A fair specimen this of Perpendicular architecture, crowded with monuments to the Carews of Antony, among them, one to the memory of the author of the “Survey of Cornwall.” Part of the inscription in Latin is by his friend Camden; the English verses are his own.
“The verses following were written by Richard Carew of Antony Esq. immediately before his death (which happened the Sixth of November 1620) as he was at his private prayers in his Study (his daily practice) at fower in the afternoon and being found in his Pocket were presented by his Grandsonne Sr Alexander Carew, according to whose desire they are here set up.
In Memory of him.“Full thirteen fiues of years I toyling haue o’repast
And in the fowerteenth weary, entred am at last
While Rocks, Sands, Stormes & leaks, to take my bark away
By greif, troubles, sorrows, sickness, did essay
And yet arriv’d I am not at the port of death,
The port to euerlasting Life that openeth,
My time uncertain Lord, long certain cannot be
What’s best, to mee’s unknown; & only known to thee.
O by repentance & amendment grant that I
May still liue in thy fear & in thy favour dye.”
There remains in the chancel a handsome perpendicular brass for the foundress of this church:
192 A tablet on the wall of the south aisle, to Admiral Thomas Graves, of Thanckes, and his wife, recites the lady’s relationship of first cousin to “Mr. Addison.” It is quite refreshing to find the connection with literature so proudly displayed: I don’t know, though, how much of this recognition is due to the fame of Addison’s matrimonial alliance with the Countess of Warwick. This thought, my literary friends, should give us pause.
On the high ground near Antony are two huge modern forts, one commanding the Lynher River, the other, looking over to seaward, defending the western approaches to Plymouth Sound. Screasdon and Tregantle Forts mount between them over 200 guns.
We reached the sea again at Downderry, passing to it through a dishevelled village called Crafthole, where we saw our first Cornish cross. Downderry is a small and very modern settlement of seaside lodging-houses, set down amidst wild and lonely scenery beside the treacherous sands of Whitesand Bay, in which many bathers have been engulfed.
To come suddenly upon the lath-and-plaster crudities of Downderry in midst of such scenery as this is to experience a cruel shock.
Downderry need detain no one.
From here it is a long, rough, and lonely walk to Looe, beside the sea; now upon lofty cliffs, and again in deep valleys opening direct from the water, with sandy shores and rocky rivulets running down from the moorlands with laughing ripples and gushing cascades, all solitary and peaceful. We halted in one of these remotenesses.
It was a beautiful valley. A little stream came tinkling down it from the impressive moors beyond, and its course was made romantic by many and huge and lichen-stained rocks; and a grey mill stood by it, with a great wheel slowly turning, and covered with aqueous growths, hanging and green, and bulged out dropsically, from whose pendant ends dropped continually crystal-clear beads of water.
We unstrapped our knapsacks, and sat down upon the grass, and basked in the sun a while. Then we essayed to cross the stepping-stones with the knapsacks in our hands; but, finding this something of an undertaking, we pitched them gently on the opposite bank.
But that bank was sloping, covered with short smooth grass, and treacherous, so that both those knapsacks rolled back, and plunged into the water and sank, sending up a succession of air-bubbles.
I am a truthful historian (between these two covers, at any rate), and write nothing but the truth; but I do not conceive myself to be under the painful necessity of setting down the whole of it here, therefore I refrain from printing the remarks with which we greeted this disaster. In the language of the lady-novelist—“suffice it to say” that those remarks were equal to such an occasion.
The salvage of those knapsacks was a matter of little difficulty; not so the drying of their contents. We unpacked them, and spread them out in the sunshine, and anchored the linen to the grass with194 big stones, and chased the vagrant handkerchiefs, blown down the valley by the wind. Then, when all things were securely laid out to dry, and the neighbourhood began to look like a suburban garden on washing-day, we began to find time hang heavily.
So—let me confess the childishness of it—we began the building of a dam across the stream, with rocks for foundation, then a layer of turves, then smaller pieces of granite, and, on top of these, bracken, more turf, and rocks again. Once or twice, when the water on the upper side of the dam had swelled, great breaches were made in it; but at last we completed a wall so thick, substantial, and impervious, contrived with such cunning alternations of material, that it afforded quite a substantial foothold to us builders, and on its lower side the bed of the stream became quite dry.
And ever, as the water from above rose and began to tip this creation of ours, we added more courses to it, so that the reservoir above became deep indeed, and the water began to invade the upper banks of the stream.
I cannot hope to communicate to you the peculiar pleasure we took in this, nor to give you an idea of the frantic haste with which we grubbed up more turf and piled on more boulders. We achieved an extraordinary enthusiasm in doing these things.
But time wore on: the Wreck was bending over our joint architecture, putting (I think) an ornamental cornice on it by way of finishing touch, when he fell off with a great splash and a shower of stones into about three and a half feet of water, and lay grovelling195 there, full length, while the dam burst apart like the opening of folding-doors, and left him, in quicker time than I can write it, stranded, but—no!—not dry.
Rarely have I laughed so long and so helplessly.
We reached Looe toward tea-time, as the melodious crash and tinkle of tea “things” from the open doors of outlying cottages informed us.
Looe lay below us, precipitous, lovely, in a golden haze. Looe was welcome, for the rocky walking of the afternoon had developed blisters. Below, directly in our path, lay an inn with a sign bespeaking “warmest welcome,” to quote from Shenstone. It was the “Salutation.” But the reception, though polite enough, belied the sign. The “missis” was out, said the landlord; he could not get us tea.
Then we had to seek elsewhere, finally to find tea and a haven for the night at the “Ship.”
Looe is a little place, yet it hums with life quite as loudly, in proportion, as any hive. Carts, all innocent of springs, rattle thunderously up and down its steep and narrow streets and lanes; the voices of them that cry pilchards are heard continually; the noise of the quays and the roar of the waves, the chiming of the Guildhall clock, and the blundering of sea-boots upon cobble-stones, help to swell the noise of as noisy a town for its size as you shall find. There is always, too, the shouting and yeo-ho-ing of the seamen in the harbour, and the tinkle of windlasses196 echoes all day across Looe River, mingled with the screaming of the sea-gulls in the bay.
As Looe River runs toward the sea, the valley narrows until, in its last hundred yards, it becomes a narrow gorge, with rugged rocks and precipitous hills on either side, and as you stand facing the sea, but a few yards from the diminutive beach, you are in receipt of an effect theatrical in its romantic exaggeration, and instantly your mind is filled with vague visions of the highly coloured nautical scenes long peculiar to the Transpontine Drama, now sacred to the memory of G. P. R. James and T. P. Cooke. The proper complement of this stage-like piece of foreshore would be, you feel certain, a row of footlights, and the eye wanders right and left for the wings, whence should come the virtuous sailor, the Dick Dauntless of the piece, with his Union Jack, pigtail, quid, and hornpipe, all complete; with straw hat, blue jacket, brass-buttoned, and trousers of spotless white; his whiskers curled in ringlets, and his mouth full of plug tobacco and sentiments of the most courageous virtue. He should come on, furiously hitching his slacks as he rolls, rather than walks, upon the boards, waving his Union Jack and brandishing a cutlass—though, how he is to do all this at once with only two hands is more than I can tell you.
You scan the offing for the piratical-looking craft, which, to be in keeping, should be tacking outside the harbour—but isn’t—murmuring to yourself softly the while, “once aboard the lugger;” and your reflections are brought back smartly to everyday198 matters by the suggestion of a (comparatively) prosaic fisherman that it is a “fine day for a sail.” You look upon the rolling deep, and with misgivings turn sadly away in the direction of the Ship Hotel.
At the “Ship” were many visitors, so for one night we had to lodge out, at the house of a dour, dreary-looking bootmaker. We breakfasted, though, at the hotel, and arrived there in time to find one of the guests conning the sketch-book I had left by misadventure in the coffee-room overnight. The man was all apology and nervousness, and upset a cup of tea over sketch-book and table-cloth. Then199 he retired confusedly to a couch at the other end of the room, where he immediately sat down on my hat. After this he went out, and probably did some more damage on the cumulative principle.
There are several morals to this pathetic episode, of which undoubtedly the most striking is, “Don’t leave your hat on the sofa.”
They have a visitors’ book at the “Ship,” from which I have culled some examples. The visitors’ book at an hotel is ever my first quest. Its contents, though, are mostly sorry stuff: praises of food supplied, and the moderation of the charges—forms of eulogy particularly distasteful to myself. But let us to our Looe versicles:—
But “Captain” Cook did not know his book sufficiently well to know that he had entertained a minor poet unawares. In the Visitors’ Book is the signature of Mr. Edmund Gosse, and the landlord had no recollection of him, although his visit had been, as another poet (minimis!) sings, “only a year ago.”
We left Looe in the late afternoon, and toiled up the steep and stony hill that begins to ascend directly after the “Jolly Sailor” is passed. Atop of this hill we immediately and perversely lost our way, and the remainder of the afternoon was spent in plunging through “town-places”10 and fields, and climbing202 over Cornish hedges, until we reached the church of Talland, nestling under the lee of the hills that run down precipitously to Talland Bay. Talland Church is peculiar in having its tower set apart from the main building, and connected with it only by an archway. But its peculiarities do not end here, for the place is very much of a museum of antiquities, and epitaphs of an absurdly quaint character abound. I am afraid Talland Church echoed with our laughter, more than was seemly, on this diverting afternoon. Here is an example:—
“In Memory of
Hugh Fowler Who Departed this
Life the 10th day of August.
In ye year 1771. Aged 50 years Old.
Also with thin lie the remains
of Elizabeth his Wife who Died
the 6 day of April 1789 Aged 69
Pursy cherubs of oleaginous appearance, and middle-aged double-chinned angels wearing pyjamas, decorate, with weirdly humorous aspect, the ledger-stone on which this crazy-patchwork epitaph is engraved, and grin upon you from the pavement with the half-obliterated grins of a century and more. One of them is pointing with his claw to an object somewhat resembling a crumpled dress-tie, set up on end, probably intended for an hour-glass. Here are some of these devices, reproduced exactly, neither extenuated nor with aught of exaggeration.
The low and roomy building, in places green with damp, is paved with mutilated ledger-stones, whose fragments have long ago suffered what seems to be an abiding divorce, so that disjointed invocations, and sacred names, and gruesome injunctions to “Prepare for Death,” start into being as you pace204 the floor. Here, too, more than in any other place, do people seem moved to verse in commemorating their departed friends, not infrequently casting their elegies in the first person, so that the dead of Talland appear to a casual observer to be the most conceited and egotistical of corpses. Of this type, the following epitaph is perhaps the most striking:—
to the memory of
late of Polperro, who Unfortunately
was shot at Sea the 24th day of Jany
in the Year of our Lord God
1802, in the 40th Year of His AGE.
Now, this Robert Mark was a smuggler. He was at the helm of a boat which had been obliged to run before a revenue cutter, and the boat was at the point of escaping when the cutters crew opened fire, killing him on the spot.
But the most curious of all the epitaphs within the church of Talland is that engraved on the monument205 to “John Bevyll of Kyllygath.” The monument is an imposing edifice of slate, in the south aisle, with a figure of John Bevyll, habited in a curious Elizabethan costume, carved in somewhat high relief on top. The verses are the more curious, in that they employ archaic heraldic terms, now little known. They set out by describing the Bevyll arms, “A Rubye Bull in Perle Filde”—that is to say, in modern heraldry, a Bull gules in a field argent:—
206 Below are very circumstantial accounts of the marriages and intermarryings of the Bevyll family, and on the old bench ends of the church their arms are displayed with countless quarterings.
The growing dimness in the church warned us of departing day, and so we went out into the churchyard, glancing as we passed at the many mournful inscriptions to sailors and fishermen drowned at sea.
Among the old stones the following epitaph attracted our attention; it is a gem of grotesqueness.
Talland is a wild and lonely spot even in these crowded days: a hundred years ago, it was a place to be shunned by reason of devils, wraiths, and fearful apparitions, that (according to the country folk) haunted the neighbourhood. But these tricksy sprites found their match in the vicar of Talland for the time being, a noted devil-queller, and layer of gnomes, known far and wide as Parson Dodge, a cleric who never failed to exorcise the most malignant of demons; a clergyman before whom Satanus himself, to say nothing of his troops of fearful wild-fowl, was popularly believed to tremble and flee discomfited. Not only did Parson Dodge attend to the evil spirits of his own parish, he was constantly in requisition throughout the county, and, so workmanlike were his methods, I don’t believe there is an active devil of any importance in Cornwall at this day.
207 The vicarage was a spot to be approached with fear o’ nights, for it was reputed to be the resort of the parson’s familiars, who assembled there to do his bidding, and the place to which came baffled and unwilling imps to be finally exorcised. Whatever truth there may have been in these things, there can be little doubt, I fear, that Talland was the scene of many successful “runs” by smugglers, in which Parson Dodge took no inactive part. Supernatural spirits, it may shrewdly be surmised, were not the only ones in which that redoubtable minister was interested.
Our map made the road from here to Polperro look like two miles; imagine our joy therefore when, after climbing the steepest hill we have seen in these parts, and after walking about a mile, we became aware of the imminence of that fishing village (or, as Jonathan Couch would have said—town) by seeing the blue smoke from its unseen houses rising in a clearly defined bank from an abyssmal ravine into the calmness of the evening air. “This,” said the Wreck, “must be—the devil.” This emphatic and earnest ending to his sentence had no reference to Polperro, I hasten to add, except in so far as it was occasioned by Polperro stones, one of which had turned my luckless companion’s ankle almost to spraining point. After this we proceeded cautiously, for not only were stones large and loose withal, but208 they were plentiful as well, and the descending lane was of a preposterous steepness.
Country folks gave us good night as we passed them, and several women-artists we overtook, going home after the day’s daubing; then we ended our descent.
It was quite dark when we at length sounded the depths of this narrow valley, and so into the miserable streets of Polperro. We turned to the left, and came upon the harbour. “No inn to be seen,” said I, as we climbed some rock stairs, and presently came out of the farther end of Polperro, upon the cliffs. So we turned back, and after groping on to an approximate level, came in a little while within sight and hearing of the sign of the “Three Pilchards,” swinging noisily overhead, and saw the little window of the inn, not yet shuttered, giving glances into the cavernous interior.
We adventured into the murk of the place, and our boots scratched gratingly upon the sanded-stone floor. A bulky form came noisily, with the clumping of sea-boots, along the passage, from regions of which the darkness gave no hint.
“Can we put up here for the night?” quoth I somewhat dubiously of this dimly seen figure, capped, blue jerseyed, and trousered in soiled ducks, that confronted us.
“Sure-ly,” said he, and disappeared to trim and light a lamp. This was evidently the landlord.
“And tea?” chorussed the Wreck.
“Yes, sir,” replied the landlord’s voice, apparently from the remote recesses of some distant cupboard.
209 So we sat down in the combination of bar-kitchen-parlour and living-room, and studied the beer-rings on the table in the gloaming of the window, until, under favour of Providence, our host should return. This he did eventually, bearing a lighted lamp, which he proceeded to hang from the ceiling. Then came another journey, and a return with sticks, paper, and matches, when he lighted the fire and put the water on to boil, blowing up the sticks and coals with bellows of a prodigious bigness. There was something diverting in the spectacle of this rough, grizzled, seafaring innkeeper making up the fire for tea like any housewife.
Meanwhile we sat and waited and chatted with our host until the water boiled, when, after much preparation, we were ushered into a room on the other side of the entrance passage, and left to tea and ourselves. “If you want anything more, please to ask for it,” said the landlord as he shut the door.
Ye gods! the chilling dampness of that room, and the fustiness of it, with ancient reeks of the sea! It was whitewashed, and hung with brightly coloured almanacs from the grocer’s, and here and there, startlingly black and white, appeared framed memorial-cards commemorating domestic losses. We required no skeleton at the feast after this, but sat down to tea, sufficiently damped by the dismal light of—yes—a long-wicked dip in a brass candlestick!
“Hang it,” remarked the Wreck, observing no teapot, “where’s the tea?” and just then his eye lighted on what should have been the hot-water jug. There was the tea, sure enough, in the jug! But210 not the most diligent search could discover any milk, so I put my head out o’ door and asked for some. The landlord was doubtful of procuring any in Polperro that night, but would send his boy out on the chance, unless, indeed, we would like condensed milk.
But our souls sickened at the thought of it, and fortunately some decent milk was had at last. Said the landlord again, as he closed the door, “If you want anything more, please to ask for it.” It occurred to us, however, that we had better make content with what we had, for by the time our very ordinary wants had been satisfied, the night would have been far spent indeed.
There was a nasty indescribable tang about that tea, and even the bread and butter was horrid. We were very hungry, and so made shift to eat a little bread and butter, but the tea we poured out of window.
Then we went out in the darkness of the lanes to see how Polperro showed at night. To walk along those lanes was an experience analogous to getting one’s sea-legs on an ocean-going sailing craft. The night was so dark, and the cobble-stone pavements so uneven, that the taking of each step was a problem of moment.
This was a Saturday night, and much business (for Polperro) was being transacted. Little shops shed glow-worm lights across the roadways, and on to rugged walls, which acted in some sort the part of the sheet in magic-lantern entertainments; that is to say, the little patches of comparative212 brilliancy exhibited exaggerated replicas of the window’s contents. Loaves of bread on the baker’s shelves assumed, in this sordid magic, the gigantic size of the free loaf in old-time Anti Corn-Law demonstrations; the sweetstuff bottles in the windows of the general shops argued, not ounces, but pounds of stickinesses; and the wavering shadows of customers’ and shopkeepers’ figures seemed like the forms of giants, alternately squat and long-drawn, contending for these gargantuan delicacies. I burned to picture these things, not in words, but by other methods. My companion hungered still, and truth to tell, so did I; and so we bought some biscuits and munched them as we went. We eventually returned to the “Three Pilchards” and went to bed, escorted by the landlord with a dip stuck in a ginger-beer bottle. I must say, though, that we were given candlesticks.
The next morning, being Sunday, the landlord had “cleaned” himself with more than usual care, and appeared resplendently arrayed in a suit of glossy black cloth, of the kind which I believe is called “doe-skin.” He shut us in the sitting-room to breakfast, which was waiting, and, before disappearing, repeated his usual formula.
After breakfast, we covenanted to return at one o’clock for dinner, and went out upon the headlands that guard with jagged rocks the narrow gut of Polperro. It was the quietest of days; even the screaming sea-gulls’ cries were less persistent than on week-days; and the male population of the place lay idly on the rocks, or lounged, gossiping, at sunny corners of the lanes, while the mid-day meal cooked213 within doors. But above all the grateful kitchen odours rose the scent of the fish offal that, with the ebbing of the tide, lay stranded in the ooze of the harbour, and bubbled and fermented in the heat of the sun, vindicating the country folk, who call the place Polstink.
Down in the lanes, as we returned, the wafts of the fish-cellars filled the air. One hundred and twenty-four years ago—on Friday, September the sixteenth, 1760, to be particular—the Rev. John Wesley “rode through heavy rain to Paulperow,” as he tells us in his “Journal.” “Here,” says he, “the room over which we were to lodge, being filled with pilchards and conger-eels, the perfume was too potent for me, so that I was not sorry when one of our friends invited me to lodge at her house.” But, indeed, Polperro did not show its best face to Wesley at any time, for, of his first visit here, which happened six years before this, he says, “Came about two to Poleperrow, a little village, four hours’ ride from Plymouth Passage, surrounded with huge mountains. However, abundance of people had found their way thither. And so had Satan too: for an old, grey-headed sinner was bitterly cursing all the Methodists just as we came into the town.”
To pass a Sunday at Polperro is to experience how empty and miserable a day of rest may become. We dined off the homely fare offered us at the “Three Pilchards,” and sighed for tea-time, and at tea-time sighed for bed. Arrived between the sheets, we fell asleep, longing for the morrow, when the hum of this work-a-day world would recommence.
This morn we breakfasted betimes, settled our modest score, and trudged away, up steep hillsides and across meadows, to Lansallos, and from Lansallos to Lanteglos-juxta-Fowey.
We came to Lanteglos before (according to the map) we had any right so to do, going to it through steep hillside fields. I don’t think there is any village to speak of, but there is a fine church, picturesquely out of plumb, with a four-staged tower, strong and plain, without buttresses, standing, with its churchyard, beside a “farm-place,” as the Cornish folk sometimes call their farm-yards, filled with great stacks of corn, stilted on long rows of stone staddles.
There stands beside the church porch one of the finest crosses to be found in Cornwall, of fifteenth-century date, with head elaborately sculptured into tabernacles, containing representations of the Virgin and Child, the Crucifixion, and two figures of saints. This cross was discovered some years ago, buried in the churchyard, and was set up by the then vicar in its present position, with a millstone by way of pedestal.
The guide-books tell of great store of brasses within the church; but the building was locked, the keys were at a cottage far down the valley, the sun was hot, and, lastly but not least, we were lazy; so we only stayed and sketched the exterior, and peered through the windows at the whitewashed215 walls and old-fashioned pews, and presently went away.
From Lanteglos good but steep roads lead down to Polruan, a manner of over-the-water suburb of Fowey, set picturesquely on the west shore of Fowey River. As we went down the steep street, children were singing the ribald song which pervaded London, and the country generally, all last year. I am not going to name it here; let it die, and be deservedly forgotten. But, par parenthèse, I will put a question here to philosophers. We know at what rate light travels, and sound too, but at what rate of speed does the comic song fare on its baleful course? Who, again, shall estimate how rapidly the contagion spreads of those now happily defunct songs of an appalling sentimentality—“See-Saw,” “The Maid of the Mill,” or, to sound deeper depths, “Annie Rooney,” and “White Wings”?
A ferry runs between Polruan and Fowey, the latter a town that has grown from its former estate of slumberous seaport into a “resort” of quite a fashionable and exclusive flavour. It is “still growing”—worse luck. The visitor may easily recognise Fowey as the original of “Troy Town,” by “Q.,” whose initial, being interpreted, stands for Mr. A. T. Quiller-Couch, himself a Cornishman. The salient features of Fowey to the eye, the nose, the ear, and the mind are sea- and land-scapes of wondrous beauty, fish odours, the clangour of a disreputable brass band, and historical legends of a peculiarly romantic character.
A wonderful old church of a peculiar dedication—Saint216 Finbarrus—stands in midst of Fowey town. We explored its interior on the evening of our stay at Fowey, attracted by its lighted windows and the weekly practising of the choir then going forward. The chancel was lit up, and the church itself lay either in deep shadow or in mysterious half-lighting. The choir and the choirmaster, standing in the gas-lit circle, with the broad pointed arches of the nave arcade yawning around them, and the queer memorials of centuries ago, with their figures of dames and knights, touched to uncanny resemblances by the incidence of the shadows, made an extremely delightful picture, and one eminently paintable.
There are many Treffrys and Rashleighs buried within Saint Finbar’s—two families with which the history of Fowey is interwoven. One John Treffry, buried here, seems to have been something of an eccentric, for he had his grave dug during his lifetime, and lay down and swore in it, “to shew the sexton a novelty.” His epitaph is a curious jingle—the work of the man himself, one would say. Here it is—
This epitaph to Mary Courtney is not without a certain sweetness of conceit:—
Choir practice ended, the church was closed, and we were cast forth upon the streets with the tail end of the evening before us. Fowey is a seaside town, singular in having no sands and no recognised public promenade; there was nothing to do then but to spend the evening at our hotel over our maps and notes. We had by this time collected an intolerable quantity of the tourists’ usual lumber. Fossils, lumps of tin and copper ore, and fragments of granite would drop from our knapsacks upon the least provocation, or upon no provocation whatever. We amalgamated our hoards, threw away a goodly percentage, and sent the remainder of the relics up to London.
I don’t like to think about the cost of their carriage. It was, like the relics, collectively, and in detail, heavy. Of what use are the things after all? You shall hear.
218 At this moment of writing up the journal of our tour it is Christmas time, and waits are lingering in the street below me, howling dismally. I have noiselessly opened the window, and thrown an ammonite at them from the vantage-point of the second floor. It is to be hoped that one or other of them was as much struck by it as I was (but in a different sense) when I found it in Cornwall. But that ammonite was as large as a saucer, and, considering that costly freight from the west, somewhat expensive ammunition. Coals would have been cheaper, less compromising, and quite as effective. I say less compromising, because, if any one is severely hurt, ammonites are not so common in London but what their possession might readily be traced.
But, sooth to say, they, with the tin ore and the lumps of granite, have become almost expended by now, and generally for the prompt dispersal of the nomadic cats, in full voice, who haunt the areas of our street.
These spoils of our touring were handier after all than coals, which blacken the hands, or soap, for which the morning finds a use; but I sometimes wonder who finds them, the very aristocracy of missiles, hurtled through midnight air from lofty eyrie upon pavements deserted by all save the slow-pacing policeman and those aforementioned disturbers of the peace.
We discharged a heavy bill this morning on leaving our hotel, but consoled ourselves with thinking upon the law of averages, by which our next account should be proportionably light. The morning was dull, and mists occasionally dispersed, apparently only to let some drenching showers through to fall upon us; and when we reached Par, we heard the birds chirping in the trees between the showers, in that way which (experience told us) betokened more rain.
Par is a little seaport, with a station on the Great Western Railway, which is also the junction for the North Cornwall lines and for the short branch to Fowey. Imagine a small, accurately semicircular bay, with a sparse fringe of mean whitewashed cottages abutting upon sands, partly overgrown with bents, the sea-poppy, and coarse grass. Add to these a long jetty, a thick cluster of small brigs, a smelting works, with monumentally tall chimney-stack, and in the background, the railway and green hillsides, and you have Par. For the life of the place, add some rumbling carts and waggons, filled with china-clay, rattling their way down to the jetty with their drivers; some three or four whitewashed-looking men, lounging and drinking at the “Welcome Home” Inn; the whistle and noise of an occasional train; a housewife hanging clothes out to dry in a garden, and there you have the full tide of existence at this Cornish seaport toward mid-day. To these incidents were added, when we passed by, a220 diverting contest in the roadway between a cat and a valorous rooster, their bone of contention, a bone, literally as well as metaphorically. But the cat, having seized the prize at last, vanished with it round a corner, like a streak of lightning, the cockerel after him, and all was quiet again. It will show the quietness of Par when I say that no one but ourselves was attracted by this singular tourney.
The tide was out when we reached Par, and we saw how, when the ebb is at its lowest here, the flat sands stretch an unconscionable distance. The derelict seaweed, wetted by the rain and drying in the moist heat of the day, gave out a very full-flavoured, maritime odour, and “smelt so Par,” if one may be allowed to thus irreverently parody the Prince of Denmark’s disgust with Yorick’s skull. It is confidently believed that the present writer is the first to discover this Shakespearian interest connected with Par.
Close by, at Castledour, corrupted to Castle Door in these days, stands a tall granite post, inscribed with some half-obliterated Roman inscription. An old Cornish historian tells, in quaint language, of an adventure which befell here.
“In a high way neere this toune (says Carew) there lieth a big and long moore stone, containing the remainder of certaine ingraued letters, purporting some memorable antiquity, as it should seeme, but past ability of reading.
“Not many yeres sithence, a Gentleman, dwelling not farre off,221 was perswaded, by some information, or imagination, that treasure lay hidden vnder this stone: wherefore, in a faire Moone-shine night, thither with certaine good fellowes hee hyeth to dig it vp: a working they fall, their labour shortneth, their hope increaseth, a pot of Gold is the least of their expectation. But see the chance. In midst of their toyling, the skie gathereth clouds, the Moone-light is ouer-cast with darkenesse, doune fals a mightie showre, vp riseth a blustering tempest, the thunder cracketh, the lightning flasheth: in conclusion, our money-seekers washed, instead of loden; or loden with water, in steade of yellow earth, and more afraid then hurt, are forced to abandon their enterprise, and seeke shelter of the next house they could get into. Whether this proceedeth from a naturall accident, or a working of the diuell, I will not,” says our historian, “vndertake to define. It may bee, God giueth him such power ouer those, who begin a matter, vpon covetousnesse to game by extra-ordinarie meanes, and prosecute it with a wrong, in entring and breaking another mans land, without his leaue, and direct the end thereof, to the princes defrauding, whose prerogatiue challengeth these casualties.”
In a wild moorland district like this, the devil, you will see, was likely to have the credit of anything that might happen. Even to-day, the countryside round about Par and Saint Austell is hardly less rugged and lonely than it was in the seventeenth century. Still, we are much more materialistic nowadays, and such happenings as that just quoted could scarcely fail of classification under the head of “natural accidents.”
But the great mining-field of Saint Austell (“Storsel,” in the local pronunciation), which begins here, almost deserted to-day, its engine-houses wrecked, its great heaps of mine refuse bare and gaunt, has taken on an air of desolation more favourable to uncanny beings than ever. It is222 not because the tin and copper have “petered out” that this once busy stretch of country now wears the air of some long-deserted mushroom-field of mining industry, sprung up suddenly, and untimely withered, like the Californian goldfields of pioneer times. No, the metals are still there, but at such depths and held in such iron grip of hard-hearted granite, that it would not pay to win the ore with the machinery available at this time. Meanwhile, the Cornish miners have mostly emigrated. To-day, if you would see the Cornishman in full work on his congenial and hereditary employments of tin and copper mining, you should go either to the Straits Settlements or to Australia, whence comes the greater part of those metals in these times.
There, in some Wooloomooloo, or other place of name infinitely repetitive, you shall, who seek, find him; but in Cornwall his kind tends to decrease continually.
But round about Par and Saint Austell enough metal remains to keep some few important mines at work; china-clay, too, is an increasingly important article of commerce. The streams and rivulets that hereabouts run down into Saint Austell or Tywardreath Bay are the very tricolours of water-courses—rust-red with pumpings from the mines, milk-white from the washings of china-clay, and, unpolluted, reflecting the heavenly blue of sunny skies.
A long and grimy road leads past Holmbush and Mount Charles to Saint Austell, all the way rutted with the wheels of heavy waggons, and muddy from the rains.
223 I remember that, when we were dining at Fowey, we were told by a Cornishman with whom we talked that Saint Austell was the richest town in Cornwall. I do not wish to dispute that statement, for, with that town’s busy neighbourhood of mines, and, more particularly, china-clay works, it would seem to be in receipt of a very great deal of commerce. Waggons, piled up with great lumps of china-clay, are continually lumbering through its narrow and crooked streets; its shops are many and well appointed; and, earnest of enterprise and prosperity, Saint Austell is lighted by electricity, in the streets, and for domestic use; it was, in fact, a pioneer in the movement for the lighting of towns by electricity. But, with all these signs of wealth, the town is not attractive. Saint Austell remains a market-town of gloomy architecture and cramped thoroughfares, whose foot-pavements, of meagre proportions, would not suffice for the accommodation of a village. Yet the people who are seen in these streets are smartly dressed, and altogether un-provincial in appearance. We saw costumes, not few nor far between, that rivalled Bond Street or Piccadilly.
I remarked upon this to the Wreck, who, having had his full share of Saint Austell’s muddy streets, was sarcastically inclined, and observed that, if it was a swell town in one particular, it was a pity that particularity did not extend to its pavements, which had, apparently, shrunk.
We lunched at as well-appointed a restaurant as might have been found at the West End of London, and then looked through the very fine church that224 stands in midst of the town. It contains a very early font, sculptured in granite, the bowl of it covered with the Early Norman ideas of owls and griffins, and fearful things that surely never flew in air, or walked the earth, or swam the sea. The church of Saint Austell has one of the finest of Cornish church-towers, lofty and pinnacled, and covered, over the upper stages of it, with much panelled work, and about the body of it with sculptured emblems of the Passion and Crucifixion. The hammer and nails, the crown of thorns, the ladder, are sculptured in groups, together with pierced hands225 and feet; and so greatly has the significance of these emblems been lost, that many of them are popularly supposed to represent miners’ tools.
And now it came on to rain with a deadly persistence that would have daunted us from setting out for Mevagissey had not letters been awaiting us at the post-office there. We set out at five o’clock in the afternoon, conveyed by the damp and undignified medium of a carrier’s cart without a tilt, crowded with country women returning from market, whose umbrellas sent trickling streams down our necks. Great pools of rain-water collected in the depressions of the tarpaulin that covered our knees, and washed furiously about as we were driven along the steep roads to the coast, so that we mentally prayed either for shine or Mevagissey. Just as we reached that odorous port, the rain ceased. We alighted (disembarked, I was about to say) “dem’d moist unpleasant bodies,” and asked the carrier as to the hotel. He said the “Ship” was the first hotel in the place, and to that sign we went. The “hotel” proved to be an inn, and the landlord of it wore an absurd air of astonishment when we proposed to stay there: he recommended us to private lodgings. This was scarcely a promising introduction to Mevagissey. It remotely resembled the reception accorded John Taylor, the “Water Poet,” on his travels in 1649.
He “trauelled twelue miles to a fisher Towne called Mevageasie; that Towne hath in it two Tauernes, and six Ale-houses, to euery one of which I went for lodging, and not anyone would harbour me, then I fought for a Constable to helpe me, but no Constable was to be found;11 the people all wondring at me, as if I had been some strange Beast, or Monster brought out of Affrica; at which most incivill and barbarous useage, I began to be angry, and I perceiving that no body cared for my anger, I discreetely went into the house where I first demanded lodging; where the Hoste being very willing to give me the courteous entertainement of Iack Drum commanded me very kindely to get me out of dores, for there was no roome for me to lodge in. I told her that I would honestly pay for what I tooke, and that if I could not haue a bed, yet I was sure of a house over my head, and that I would not out till the morning: with that a young saucy knave told me that if I would not go out, he would throw me out, at which words my choller grew high, my indignation hot, and my fury fiery, so that I arose from a bench, went to my youth, and dared to the combate: whereat the Hostesse (with feare and trembling) desired me to be quiet, and I should haue a bed, at which words my wrath was appeased, and my ire asswaged.
“But straite wayes another storme seemed to appeare for an ancient Gentleman came suddenly out of another Roome (who had heard all the former friendly passages,) and hee told mee that I should not lodge there, for though I had sought and not found a Constable, yet I should know that I had found a Justice of Peace before I sought him; and that he would see me safely lodged: I was somewhat amazed at his words, and answered him, Let him doe his pleasure, for I submitted my selfe to his disposall.
“To which he replyde, That I should go but halfe a mile with him to his house, which I did, and there his good Wife and he did entertayne me courteously, with such fare and lodging as might have accommodated any Gentleman of more worth and better quality then one that had been ten times in degree before me: There I stayd the Saturday, and all the Sunday, where I found more Protestant Religion in 2 dayes, then I had in 5 yeers before. The Gentlemans name is Mr. Iohn Carew, a Gentleman of noble and ancient descent, and a worthy Iustice of the Peace in those parts.”
227 We eventually found very comfortable rooms at a delightful villa-like house, looking directly on to the sea, beating in upon a rocky shore. This was the second place in which we touched the fringe of the titled aristocracy. Our landlady, upon our arrival, proudly showed us the fragments of an envelope addressed with the name of a Viscount who had been staying in the house. Eventually we paid a heavier bill than we should otherwise have done had none but miserable plebeians lodged here aforetime. We will, in future, be careful to select only the haunts of the Third Estate.
We don’t (strange to say) seem to hanker after titled folk of any sort—a curious trait in Britons, who, proverbially, are said to love lords. Perhaps we are among the proverbial exceptions, and help thereby to prove the rule. For myself, I hope (and think, indeed) I am a loyal subject of Her Majesty’s (Hats off, please!); I know, also, that I have Conservative ideas of an old, not to say a mediæval, type; but I would not go round the next street corner to catch a glimpse of the Sovereign, nor any of the Royal Family, for that matter, if they chanced to be there.
As for other titled personages, from Dukes to Knights Bachelors, down to that no-account thing, a German prince, with more quarterings to his “old coat” than square miles of territory to his name, I would not, for the sake of their titles, take any pleasure in their society. Can I explain these contradictory things? No, I can’t. I will say, merely, that no man’s views are indisputably logical, while,228 as for women’s—well, there! Once I kept watch, as some social Lubbock, upon the thoughts and sayings and actions of a Radical by conviction, yet not by practice, for he owned ground-rents and lent money on mortgages, and ground the faces of the poor horribly when he had the chance. He took the Gutter Percher every evening, which proved his Radical bias; but he would go unconscionable distances under discouraging conditions to catch a fleeting glimpse of Royal personages. No man so proud as he when he returned one day, with stuck-out chin and air of importance, after having his hat-lifting salutation acknowledged in the Park by a very Great Personage indeed; none so constant in christening his numerous progeny after members of the Royal Family.
Mevagissey bears a great resemblance to Polperro. It stands at the bottom of a deep valley leading out into the sea, and has a little harbour, built in much the same fashion. When the tide is out and the harbour dry, the reek of fish-offal is just like that of Polperro, but (if possible) a trifle stronger and more essential. When the cholera visited Mevagissey in 1849, the inhabitants fled the place, and encamped on the hill-tops, the fishermen lying on board their smacks in Fowey Haven. One wonders how the Fowey folk liked it. Some few years ago a new granite pier was completed to form a southern arm229 to the harbour at Mevagissey. It cost £25,000, and the next storm punched a great hole in the middle of it, carrying away about half of the entire structure, and rendering the remainder not only useless but dangerous. It will cost £30,000 to set all right again.
At mid-day we set off by the coast, making for Veryan. We passed Porthmellin, a lonely cove, and then the road lay inland to a village with the Irish-like name of Gorran, a diminutive outlandish place, with an immense church, and a churchyard where whole generations of villagers are buried by families, each family to its own particular plot of ground, as it seemed. Half a mile to the south, in a rocky bay of the smallest dimensions, is the picturesque and delightful village of Gorran Haven, a feast230 of colour, even for Cornwall, so rich in sapphire seas, golden sands, and brilliantly lichened rocks. The sands were littered with lobster-pots, and a long row of bronzed and blue-jerseyed fishermen sat on an interminable bench, and blinked in the late afternoon sun. We stayed awhile and talked with them. Before we set off again for Veryan, we asked a fisherman how far it was, for we had given up all our faith in distances, as measured on our Reduced Ordnance Map. “Seven mile,” said he, “but you’re not going to walk there to-night?”
We assured him that such was our intention, and stepped out briskly along a road that wound in and out, and narrowed and broadened again in a curious manner, passing lonely little chapels set in the wildest of wildernesses.
As we came in view of St. Michael Caerhayes, seen afar off from high ground, we had before us the loveliest of evening effects. The colour of the sky ranged from deepest blue, through scarlets and flaming yellows, to a delicate puce. Great and heavy masses of woodland lay below at the rear of a castellated mansion, whose park-like lands stretched down to the very verge of a miniature bay, guarded by headlands of a diminutive cragginess. Between them lay a view of the open Channel, with the coast-line terminating in the abrupt wall of Deadman’s Head, and the sunlight struck full upon the water with a dazzle as of molten gold. We decided that Saint Michael Caerhayes was decidedly the place for a night’s rest. But when we had descended into the valley, and thence up the road on the other side,231 and found no village, we began to have misgivings. A belated countryman whom we passed as the sun went down informed us that Saint Michael Caerhayes was half a mile farther on, and so we were reassured. We walked half a mile, and passed, perhaps, six cottages, but never an inn. Something tall and black loomed up in the now darkened sky. It was the church tower, and again we felt that our day’s journey was nearly done, for it is generally found that church and village inn are very near neighbours. But here the church stood solitary; not a house of any kind near it, and beyond it mere vagueness. We retraced our steps, and asked a contemplative youth, who sat astride a gate, where the village inn was. There was none! We had passed all there was of the village! Now our courage oozed away, and all pride with it. Could he (we asked) tell us where we might chance to get a night’s lodging? He would inquire, he said, and we followed him meekly. Inquiries were fruitless here; we were sent away with scant ceremony. At the lodge gates of the lordly mansion we had seen earlier we halted on our weary way, and asked if possibly we could be recommended to some resting-place. We had some faint hopes that they would take compassion upon us here, but the lodge-keeper, who pondered her head vainly to answer our question satisfactorily, made no offer. There was nothing for it, then, but to walk on to Veryan.
Night shut down impenetrable on the moorlands, and darkness brushed our faces as we plunged into the unknown from the inhospitable hamlet of Saint232 Michael Caerhayes. Civilisation became an unmeaning term, or if aught of significance the word yet retained, it left in the chambers of the mind a satiric tang; for the steep paths, rocky, winding, and altogether insignificant, upon which we presently fared to the seaboard, seemed rather fortuitous than planned, and an emphatic comment upon primary conditions, rather than a subdual of them.
It was the booming of the surf hundreds of feet below us that advised our coming upon the sea, and cottage windows, two or three, shining in glow-worm fashion, showed us where lay Port Holland, deep-set at the seaward end of a valley, where the unseen waves spent their force amid sands and stones, with a long-drawn sighing a-h-h-h, a-h-h-h.
To Port Holland instantly succeeded Saint Lo, in another bight—both wild, lonely, and (for us tourists, at least) shelterless. We spoke with two formless concentrations of blackness, who knew naught of accommodation for strangers, and readily (nay, with alacrity) gave us good night. Then we, with what cheer we might, to climb the road that now ascended inland the western side of a valley, moist and teeming with nocturnal life, that rustled and ran among the brake and underwood, and chirped and squeaked as our straying feet sent fragments of stone and rock rolling into its ferny lairs.
And now, on this solitary road, we lost our way at an occult forking of the path, uncharted by any finger-post. We felt assured of it as we walked on for miles, and the road wound round and about with never another sign of the sea, which should have233 been within hearing. At length the road forked again, with a sign-post set in a hedge at the angle. We had no matches; the hedge forbade any near approach to the finger-board.
For all the use it was, the sign-post need not have existed. After we had taken what looked the most likely road, and after another mile had been tramped, we came to another and more promising affair, which, we found, directed us, in the way we were going, to Grampound, a place we had not the remotest idea of visiting. There was nothing for it but to turn about and retrace our steps. This we did, and presently met some country folk. We could have embraced them, so long was it since we had seen any fellow-creatures, but we refrained, and merely asked the road and the distance to Veryan. Four and a half miles farther, it seemed.
With what haste and with how many more wrong turnings we pursued our way I will not speak.
We reached that village eventually, and only just before closing time. The windows of the one inn that Veryan possesses streamed brightly into the road as we fearfully crossed the threshold, and doubtfully begged (that is the word) a lodging for the night, and a meal to go to bed upon. I cannot call to mind the sign of that inn, but I have not forgotten the name of Mrs. Mason, our hostess. That were inexcusable, for surely no one could have been kinder to wearied wayfarers than she. We had tea (a high tea, to be sure) at that hour of night, and tea that night seemed ambrosia fit for gods.234 What a delightful tea that was! Cornish cream, new bread, apricot jam, and a mysteriously delicious preserve, whose name we never knew, but whose savour remains a fond and fast memory. And while tea progressed, we had music from the bar-parlour on the other side of the passage. Some one played upon a violin, and the airs he played were old sea-songs, that were new when Dibdin wrote, and popular when British sailors wore pig-tails, and fought the Frenchman and the Spaniard from youth to age; times when every man had his fill of fighting, and the stomach for it, too. So it befell that, even with that crazy fiddle and that unfinished performer, the songs he played were melodies that went straight to the heart, even as they originally came from that seat of a throbbing patriotism; tunes that made the pulses dance, the eyes to sparkle, and the cheek to flush. We have no need for such songs now, for we meet no foreign foe to-day. No storms rend the branches of the oak: the tree, alas! is rotting at the heart. Ah! the pity, the misery of it.
Judge of our surprise when we found this morning that Veryan was not upon the sea, but over a mile removed from it. We had carelessly noted Veryan Bay marked on the map, and thus concluded that of course the village of the same name was seated beside the sea. We left our inn and Veryan with our pockets filled with the apples our kindly235 hostess pressed upon us at parting. My hostess, I salute you!
All through this day we wandered blunderingly, as if we had been chartless. Certainly, when the maps deal with such little-travelled districts as this, they become utterly untrustworthy for by-roads, and are only to be followed with suspicion for the highways. We set out for Truro, and at the outset were seduced from the narrow path by the tempting clusters of blackberries that hung upon the hedges of a hillside field. This led us at length upon the hamlet of Treworlas, a few scattered houses set down upon the edges of a golden moor, free to every breeze that blows, where the winds beat upon the walls of the cottages and shook them, and fluttered the feathers of the scurrying geese that patched the gold of the gorse and the green of the grass with moving patches of white. There was a house to let here, an empty house, with garden all overgrown with weeds, and a bill swinging in the window by one corner; not at all an undesirable little place—for a hermit. We inquired the rent of it—£5 per annum. Just the place for retirement from one’s kind: the ideal retreat for one crossed in love or soured by failure, or for the naturally misanthropical; we bear it in mind, for, though we are none of these, yet a time may come! From here we went on to Philleigh, a village that stands on a tongue of land pushing out into the salt-water Fal, where Ruan Creek sends spreading watery fingers between the hills. Steep, rain-washed roads, unkempt and deep rutted, lead down to the water, and a homely inn,236 with flaunting linen hanging out to dry, and gobbling ducks scavenging among the cart-tracks, wears a name remarkably poetic—The Roseland Inn. A forest of thick-growing, stunted oaks leads to the steam ferry at Trelissick, where the Fal winds between lovely woods that grow down to the water’s edge, and dip their branches in the stream. We crossed here mistakenly, thinking it to be King Harry Passage, and thus missing a sight of Tregothnan, Lord Falmouth’s country seat, famed in all the country round about for the charm of its situation.
As the afternoon wore on to tea-time, we came into Truro, along a broad and surprisingly well-kept237 highway. But never a sight was there of the city until we had reached the hillside, where its outskirts of villas straggle into the country, detached and semi-detached, with lawns and flower-beds and gravel-paths, ah! so neat and clean-swept, all of them bearing the most high-falutin’ names. Truro is folded away from distant sight, in between the hills, where the Fal ceases its navigable course.
Truro is admirably situated, but the city does not do justice to its site. Its buildings, substantial and enduring enough, since they are built of granite, are commonplace in design, and their tameness of outline is a weariness to the spirit, save, indeed, some modern commercial structures that savour of architecture; but to mention these by name in this place would be to incur suspicion of advertisement. We came into the city down Lemon Street, past the melancholy statue of Lander the explorer, standing atop of his Doric pillar, and were disappointed on the instant of entering it by these things, and by the colour-scheme of the place—a heavy grey, unrelieved by brick or other stone than native granite. The prevailing stoniness continued even in the roadways, paved with granite setts.
Truro is now a cathedral city, with a cathedral in course of construction in its midst. Already the choir and the transepts are completed and consecrated, so we may form some idea of what the building will eventually look like. Its style is Early238 English, singularly refined and symmetrically ordered as regards the interior, but “exteriorly”—as architectural slang hath it—it has an appearance at once cramped and overladen with ornament of too minute a character, and is “picturesque” with a studied ready-made quaintness that does a hurt to the dignity of such a building. This irregularity of external details, and the whimsical incidence of turret and spirelet, belong, properly, not to an original building, but should be the outcome of generations of alteration and addition, grafted by the varying tastes of posterity upon a well-balanced design. Perhaps it was necessary for the winning of the competition for the architect to send in a showy elevation that should take the eyes of a committee, and in this Mr. Pearson succeeded, but he has failed to satisfy a reasonable demand for dignity and repose to the outward view.
The cathedral will be 300 feet in length, with two western towers and a central spire. Its site, though central, is somewhat unfortunate, because hemmed closely with the surrounding houses of High Cross. It was the site of the old Church of Saint Mary, which became of cathedral rank on the establishment of the Truro diocese in 1877, but was demolished in favour of the new scheme, saving its south aisle, retained and incorporated with the new building.
It was while I was sketching the cathedral from a point of vantage in the High Street, surrounded, meanwhile, by an intensely interested crowd of boys, that a stranger, apologising for the interruption, came up and asked me if I would mind going with him to239 his house, and giving an opinion as to the genuineness of a reputed Reynolds painting he had bought for some few shillings. The picture proved to be a sorry daub; but none the less for the adverse opinion, Mr. —— proved very friendly, and, as he was driving to Redruth that evening, invited self and friend to accompany him at an appointed time.
Punctually to appointment we set forth, and once past the incline by which the city is left, whizzed along the smooth highway in the rear of a sturdy cob. We cleared the suburbs, and presently came upon the great mining-field that stretches its seamed and blasted waste over mile upon mile of dingy hummocks and ruined engine-houses. Here and there green oases of private parks and pleasaunces alleviate the harshness of the towering piles of mining refuse that harbour no green thing. But for these the scene is an abomination of desolation. Chacewater, a commonplace, mile-long village, with a poetical name, set beside the highroad amidst the heaps of rubbish, is a place of no conceivable interest.
Our acquaintance beguiled the way with local legends and scraps of entertaining information, and the sight of Chacewater moved him to tell us this story:—
“Now Truro,” said he, “Truro used to have a bootmaking industry, and in those times no love was240 lost between Truro folk and the miners of Chacewater, I can tell you. Now, it so happened that my father was driving home with a companion from Redruth one dark night, when, a short distance out of Chacewater, a crowd of miners rushed out from an old engine-house by the wayside and made for the trap, shouting, ‘Truro cobblers!’ My father had been mistaken, in all likelihood, for another party, but it seemed likely the error would not be found out until the occupants of the trap had been severely handled. My father, though, was a man of resource. He had bought, among other things, some brass candlesticks at Redruth that day, and he suddenly remembered them. Snatching up one in either hand, he dropped the reins, and presenting the candlesticks point-blank, shouted, ‘Hands off, or, by the Lord, I’ll shoot ’ee!’
“The miners left in a hurry.”
In the meanwhile we had come to Saint Day, which the Cornish folk call Saint Dye, a little market-town situated in midst of mines, living on mines, and sorry or glad only as mining prospers or is depressed. Saucy Cornish girls blew kisses to us from the windows of Saint Day. Sauciness is a quality in which the girls of Cornwall are rich. Alas! our friend drove through the narrow streets all unheeding, like another Jehu. If we had known him longer we would have cursed him for it, but he was a “new chum,” and it could not be done. Discourtesy is always reserved for friends of old standing. And thus we drove into Redruth on a Saturday afternoon.
241 Redruth still remains a busy and populous town, despite the exhausted condition of its neighbouring mining-fields. It is an unlovely town, built at the bottom and sides of a valley, amid the scarred and tumbled mine refuse of a thousand years.
The name of Redruth is one that invites attention: it is a name that is more attractive than the town itself. Philological antiquarians profess to find its derivation in the Cornish Tretrot, which, being interpreted, means “the house on the bed of the river.” But from such airy surmisings it is better to turn aside to the bed-rocks of modern facts. For it was at Redruth that Murdoch, in 1792, discovered gas as an illuminant; here, too, the same engineer invented the traction-engine some four years later. The country-folk, who met it on the roads at night, thought it was the devil.
When our acquaintance drove us to the top of the High Street, we said good-bye, resisting his offers to drive us back to Truro.
Amid this Saturday bustle and press of business, we found it somewhat difficult to find accommodation at a decent inn, where anything like quietude reigned. At some places we could have had bedrooms, but no tea; at others, tea, but no rooms. At one inn the servant asked us if we were professionals, eyeing my huge sketch-book. “Professionals”—we glanced at one another. Surely the girl doesn’t take us for photographers?
“What professionals did you think we were?” asked the Wreck.
“Please, sir, I thought as how you was hactors,”242 she said. “There’s a lot of ’em come down here to-day to play-act to-night.”
Alas! when we told her we were not hactors, we could see her face change, and guessed that a fond illusion had been destroyed. We saw at once that we were inferior beings, and regretted for the first time in our lives that we were not upon the stage. It was perhaps as well they had not sufficient room for us here: we should have felt, so long as we stayed, how shamefully we had deluded that trusting servant girl, and how guilefully personated those bright beings of a higher sphere than ours, whose privilege it is to strike attitudes, and say, “Ah, ha!” at frequent intervals, together with other such colloquial and ordinary expressions.
At length we found tea and a rest for the remainder of the day—not before they were necessary.
The rain rained all the remainder of the afternoon, and winds blew, and evening mists eventually hid the dismal prospect. All the available literature of the hotel lay in railway-guides and directories, an old copy of the “Pickwick Papers,” and a copy of a new humorist, whose work I am not going to mention by title. We glanced at Dickens with little satisfaction. His humour has long gone threadbare; Pickwickian feasts do not divert nowadays; the spreads are not appetising; the cakes are stale; the ale flat. As for the new humorist, he gave us, as243 the Noo ’umor would have it, “the hump.” No man can read the Noo ’umor and yet retain his literary digestion unimpaired. It seems the distinguishing mark of this appalling novelty that its sentences be cut up into short sharp lengths, with an effort at smartness; more often, though, the result, instead of being smart, is merely silly.
But in authorship, even as in M.P.ship, there is, in these days, much queer company, for, mark you, we may have in these latter times our Stevenson, but also our Sullivan, of the dishonoured prize-ring; a Barrie, but, per contra, him whom we may call by analogy Monsieur de Londres, throttling Mr. Berry: these have each his place in the catalogue of the British Museum Library, and, title for title, they bulk the same, although the difference between them is the very considerable one existing between letters and pothooks. As for the Society of the Talking Shop at Westminister, are not ——12 and ——12 its admired and honoured members?
We found, too, some crumpled copies of local newspapers. Lord! how can any one on this God’s earth read such chronicles of small beer. But to whom had that stale copy of the Guardian belonged that we discovered behind the horsehair sofa? The Wreck found it with joy, for its bulk promised plenty reading; but he presently slung the thing into the coal-scuttle, with remarks uncomplimentary, to say the least of them, to that flatulent print.
“Divinity,” said he, “I can understand, and ordinary worldly matters I appreciate better still; but244 hang me if I can make much sense out of that abominable mixture of this and other worldliness that seems to be a printed corroboree by Fleet Street journalists masquerading in alb and crucible.”
“Chasuble, you mean, dear boy,” I remarked.
“No matter,” he replied, with the slanginess which I grieve to report; “they’re all the same price to me. Let’s go out.”
And we went.
The High Street was still noisily busy, and with the coming of night was brilliant with many lights. The rain, too, sputtered only fitfully, and so the open air stall-keepers hung out their wares again. This was not like Cornwall, to our thinking; it more nearly resembled the Edgware Road on a Saturday night, save that dissipation was not evident. The folk were orderly, as might be expected of the Cornish people, even on Saturday evening.
The Cornishman is imaginative, and deeply, emotionally, but unaffectedly religious. He is a Celt, and consequently he generally wears an air of gentle melancholy. Hospitality and warm-heartedness are also among his characteristics, as all who have journeyed much in Cornwall have occasion to know.
But although the Cornishman is so religiously disposed, Cornwall is by no means a stronghold of the Established Church; the Cornishman’s piety runs in the channel of Dissent, and in many lonely valleys, and frequently on wild moorlands, far from sight of other houses, you come upon his conventicles, built after the fashion of the houses that245 are represented in children’s first efforts at drawing, in what I may perhaps be allowed to term the “box-of-bricks” style of architecture.
These Bible Christian or Bryanite chapels, with their Wesleyan rivals, are numerous above those of all other sects, and are nearly all inexpressibly dreary in appearance. In the larger towns they are often of immense bulk, as witness the chapels of the various Wesleyan sects at Redruth, of a size larger beyond comparison with the parish church.
Not only is the Establishment weak in its hold on the people; it labours under the additional disadvantage of scanty revenues; rich livings are the exception rather than the rule in Cornwall. If you take up the “Clergy List,” and scan the values of Cornish livings, you will find them, in a very large proportion of cases, extremely meagre; the clerk in holy orders frequently not receiving so large a sum as the small stipend accorded his secular namesake of London city—poor clerk!
We did not remain at Redruth the following day (Sunday), but left the town shortly after breakfast, on our way westward. Carn Brea Hill loomed ahead beyond the works of the tin-streamers, and we made direct for it.
Carn Brea is a hill of commanding personality, steep and rugged, and encumbered with huge granite boulders, that give its highest point a peculiarly fantastic corona. Here, where rocks are largest and more wildly strewn, long-forgotten builders have contrived a gaunt tower, perched airily on devil-poised crags, overlooking the scarred and streaked mining-field that here stretches from sea to sea. It is with disgust that, as you make a painful and involved ascent of the hillside, and draw nearer this old fortress, you observe its walls repaired with stucco, and its windows filled with ginger-beer bottles and bottles of sweets.
Exploration always brings its peculiar disillusionments; it had been better for a proper and enduring reverence of Carn Brea and its gory Druidic traditions to have gazed and speculated from below than to have resolved our speculations into facts so uncongenial. For, really, to view Carn Brea from the valley on a day of mingled storm and shine is to receive an impression of grandeur and Brocken-like weirdness. The Druidical cromlechs and stone altars of Borlase’s vivid imagination, the craggy tower, the modern Dunstanville pillar, break the sky-line into mysterious points and notches; even the white cottages, the brutal ugliness of the Dissenting chapel, and the merely commercial aspect of the tin and copper mines of Pool village, that247 straggle down into middle distance and foreground, take a decorative value and strange significance.
The roadways that lead from Pool into Camborne are bordered on either side with immense heaps of crushed rock and dirt, the roads themselves grimy with coal-dust, where they are not stodgy with the overflowed red mud from the mine-adits. Pool itself is notable for nothing, except that its railway station, now named Carn Brea, was once a fruitful source of error in sending passengers and goods to Cornwall, instead of to the Poole in Dorsetshire. Hence the change of name.
Rather more than a mile down the road is Camborne, and midway are the huge works of that very ancient tin and copper mine, Dolcoath, which on week-days make the country side resound with the blows of their steel stamps crushing up the ore-laden rock by the ton. Some of the galleries of Dolcoath mine are 2300 feet deep, and over five million pounds’ value of tin and copper ore have been brought to bank. I have been here on a week-day, when the stamps were at work, and the noise was simply terrific. I have never heard anything to equal it. Not only is it impossible to hear or be heard in speaking, but the mind seems almost to be stunned by the clamour. And to the stranger, the result of all this uproar is merely so many streams of leaden coloured water, flowing into what look like great mud reservoirs. But the grey and slate-coloured particles that go to the colouring of those streams are so many grains of tin ore, and the neat-looking girls who are stirring up the reservoirs with249 brooms are not engaged upon making mud-pies, but are busily washing the impurities from the metal grains.
Camborne streets straggle almost as far as Dolcoath, and doubtless many of them are built over some of the galleries and levels of that immense mine. Camborne is an offence to the eye. It is much larger than either Truro, Redruth, or Penzance, numbering 15,000 inhabitants, most of whom live upon mines, either directly or indirectly. Indeed, many of them live in the mines, and merely come home to sleep. Thus it is that all day long Camborne seems almost a city of the dead. It is a town whose houses, if not squalid, are the most abjectly characterless of any I have ever seen, stony granite affairs, which wear the look of having once upon a time been inhabited—but a very long while ago, and meanwhile having been preserved from decay by some mystic preservative power.
The finest thing in Camborne is the road that leads out of it. That is a clumsy paraphrase of Johnson, I know, touched, too, with a suspicion of Irishry; but for all that, true enough. I don’t know that the little hamlet of Barrepper would, with an advent from more pleasing scenes, have seemed so welcome a place, but after Camborne it was welcome indeed. A little hamlet, Barrepper, on the highroad to Hayle. It consists, apparently,250 of half a dozen cottages, every one uninhabited and in ruins, and one general shop, which is also the post-office. One wonders whence come the people to buy and post. No one was there when we passed by, save the shopkeeper postmaster, and he sat outside his shop, reading a newspaper in the road. Close by a brooklet trickled across the highway, under a rude stone bridge, and this was all of Barrepper. Now the country side became flat and singularly uninteresting; utterly undistinguished. The mining-field was left behind, and the streams ran clear again, but the level lands and the smug hamlet of Carnhell Green, through which we passed, were featureless. The straggling stony village of Gwinear, too, is remarkable for nothing but its name—a name, like those of many Cornish villages, full of possibilities.
The Cornish have a wonderful Procrustean trick of altering proper names to suit the conveniences of their speech, only the trick works commonly but one way with them, and that is with the lopping off, rather than the addition or elongation of, syllables.
For example, the villages and churches of Phillack and Filleigh are named after the martyr saint Felicitas; and what was once a baptismal name for girls, Felicity, very often met with in the county, is at this day not only colloquially but baptismally given as Filly or Philly.13
To see these names (as one frequently does) on tombstones of quiet sober graveyards, strikes the stranger with an effect of misapplied humour, but a Cornishman sees no levity in them.
251 But, in Cornwall generally, girls’ names are strangely contorted, as witness the very favourite appellations of Jenifer for Guinevere, and Tamsin for Thomasine. These we saw often, and once that rare and pretty name, Avice.
To revert again to place-names, Saint Blazey is a rendition of Saint Blaise; Saint Rumon, who lends his name to two parishes, becomes Ruan; Saint Austell presumably derives from Augustulus; Saint Buryan is a shortening of the name of Saint Buriana; the village of Gerran has its name from Gerennius, who was nothing of a saint, indeed, but very much of a chieftain; and Saint Mellion is from Saint Melanius. Sennen, too, smells suspiciously like a corruption of Symphorien. Even where names are not thus reduced, or where, being of but one syllable, they admit of no further contraction, your true Cornishman will contrive to twist them inconceivably. Of these, Saint Clare has become Saint Cleer, and the name of Saint Erth, the village by which we now came into Penwith, was once Saint Erith. Here we entered upon the final stage of our journey, catching glimpses of Mount’s Bay and Saint Michael’s Mount, and Marazion, as the sun went down.
When we came to the level-crossing that mars the roadway just outside Marazion Road Station, the gates were closed for all but foot-passengers, and we heard the rushing of the “down” train between the hills. It was quite dark now, and I knew the road from here into Penzance for a dusty and stony two miles, so we needed little consideration upon the question whether or not we should take train for252 that short distance. We took it, or, to avoid quibbles, I will say it took us.
Now we were housed at Alverton, which, you should know, is the Kensington of Penzance, a suburb of the old town, which has gradually become absorbed, a place of many villas, where the visitor generally finds his rest, where gardens meet the eye at every turn, where fuchsias, geraniums, and myrtles grow to astonishing sizes.
Our windows looked down upon the sunlit waves of Mount’s Bay, while through the open casements came the rich odours of these flowers, but above all the piercing scent of the clove-carnation. Among the brave show of blossoms were the peculiar waxy flowers of the Escallonia shrub, brilliantly red.
From adown the street, sloping toward the shore, came every morning the high-pitched cry of “Pilchers, fine fresh pilchers,” for there were fine catches of pilchards overnight; and at a soothing distance, a more or less German band generally murdered current comic operas.
Pirates there are not at Penzance, and nothing approaching them, unless we except these German band-itti; but they are, indeed, or were, when last I heard them, desperate characters, who would think nothing of murdering “The Mikado” or “The Gondoliers.” Indeed, they have done so many times, and will again, unless some action is taken in the matter.254 I shudder to think how many fine and robust comic operas have been done to death on moonlit nights upon the esplanade in front of the Queen’s Hotel, or in the gloomy by-ways of the Morrab Road. I have seen these bravos standing in a circle round their helpless victim, and noted the brazen flash of their deadly weapons, and heard the agonising demi-semi-quavers of his dying notes as the remorseless band blew out his bars. Ah! sometimes, when they little thought their criminal deeds were overheard, I have listened a while to them making shameful overtures to their captives, and have presently hurried away, fingers to ears, to shut out the fearful shrieks which such deeds have produced. What class of people is it that supports these hired assassins? Alas! I know not, but that they are supported is a solemn fact. So callous are some of these folk that—I assure you it is so—I have actually seen them place bribes in the hand of the chief miscreant, and have observed them loitering by, with heartless smiles of approval, until the deed was done. What harmony, what tender chords can exist in a town where such doings fall flat upon accustomed ears?
And yet the place looks so fresh, so fair, so happy. It is ten miles from the Land’s End; the wail of the Cockney concertina is never heard within these gates; and Plymouth, the nearest large town, is eighty-one miles away. Penzance knows nothing of London. Visitors come from the Metropolis to the shores of Mount’s Bay; but although they are—in instances—known to his from London town, that place is the merest geographical expression in Penwith.255 We don’t read London papers at Penzance (unless we are—for our sins—authors, when our friends kindly post us those copies containing slashing reviews, obligingly blue-pencilled); we read few papers of any sort, and those are printed at Plymouth. Visitors do not get through much reading at Penzance. They have breakfast, and disappear for the day, to return only at night, tired and hungry, from strenuous excursions to all sorts of wild and impossible places, with names that only a Celt can properly get his tongue round. A stranger coming into Penzance upon a mid-day of its season would opine from the evidence of his eyes that the town had lost its favour, but nothing would be farther from the truth. Half the visitors are at Land’s End or the Logan Rock; some at Saint Ives; many at the Mount, or Newlyn, or Mousehole; a few have gone to Truro or the Lizard.
Penzance is a harmony in grey and blue, looking seaward; in grey and green to the inward glance. Its chief street, Market-jew Street, climbing up to the centre of the town, has at its summit the somewhat gloomy granite building of the Market House—severely classic—fronted with a statue in white marble of Sir Humphry Davy, a native of Ludgvan village near by. Over a doorway of the building you may see, carved in the granite, the arms of Penzance, i.e., the Head of Saint John Baptist (I disclaim at once all responsibility for the apparent Irishry of the arms of the town being a head), with the legend “Pen Sans, 1614.” At the Alverton end of the town you may still see an old, heavily thatched256 cottage, where was born that doughty hero, Edward Pellew, who afterwards rose through his prowess to the title of Viscount Exmouth, a title more hardly earned than some parallel patents of nobility in this little day.
’Tis a languorous air, of Mount’s Bay; thus it fell that the morning was usually well advanced before we happened in the street or by the harbour. Here, on certain week-days, is great bustle, when the mail steamer is preparing to cast off for the voyage across to Scilly. The passengers, like the poet’s257 “little victims,” laugh and are merry, “all unconscious of their doom.” For, of a truth, ’tis a rolling sea, and, as the humorist might say, the sick (!) transit takes away the gloria mundi.
But we leave these, and embark upon that little voyage of three miles to “the Mount,” as you come to abbreviate Saint Michael’s crags, across the shallow waters of the tumbling bay.
In less than half an hour our little launch runs alongside the massive stone walls of the tiny haven, at the foot of the historic Mount, and we presently disport ourselves upon its delightful slopes, whose history, with that of the grey castle above, goes back to very dim antiquity: a history of sieges, surprises, and fierce fights among the rocks, and on the sands below. The Mount is now the property and the residence of Lord Saint Levan, the present head of the Saint Aubyns, whose name one constantly meets throughout Cornwall. The loyal Saint Aubyns have zealously recorded the Royal visit to the Mount in 1846, when her Majesty landed at the stairs of the haven; for there has been let into the rugged granite a brass-plate, inscribed with a “V.R.,” and fashioned to represent the Royal boot-sole, by which you gather that the Queen wore most uncommonly square-toed shoes in those days.
I warn strangers that, before visiting the Mount, it were well to dismiss from the mind all recollections of it as done into paint and water-colour, for artists have all tacitly agreed to exaggerate its height and steepness. Thus, Turner’s grand painting, and Clarkson Stanfield’s huge achievement in water-colour,258 would be introductions by which a subsequent acquaintance with the place would only disappoint. But then, to expect topographical accuracy in these things (and especially in Turner’s later work) were indeed vain. The best point of view for an idea of the Mount is that half-way up to the left hand, whence this drawing was taken; for here you have bulk and composition without the need for exaggeration.
The castle, crowning the heights, has still much of interest to show, though modern additions are everywhere about. Thus, the Chevy Chase Hall, anciently the refectory of the religious house that once held sway here, is worthy attention. Its name is derived from the decorative frieze that runs round its walls, a representation of old-time hunting scenes. The Royal Arms above, are, of course, a very modern addition, and the spears and other weapons seen on the walls are, for the most part, spoils of the Soudan campaigns, brought from Egypt by Lord Saint Levan’s son, who went through those expeditions.
The chapel, too, though now bare enough, is of Perpendicular date. A horrid oubliette is shown beneath the stalls, a small chamber, without light or air or any outlet when the paving-stone above is lowered to its place in the floor. Some years since, when this dismal living tomb was accidentally discovered, the skeleton of a man of extraordinary stature was found within. Who he had been must ever remain matter for conjecture—poor wretch, left here to be forgotten.
It is a darksome climb to the battlements of the259 old tower of the castle, so high above the world. Penzance and Newlyn lie below in the distance, and their white walls flash upon the grey of granite and the dull green of the moors beyond. Presently, as you gaze, comes a trail of smoke from eastward, and the “down” train glides into the wayside station of Marazion Road, bringing its complement of holiday-makers, who will swarm up the Logan Rock, sail to260 Lamorna, adventure (if they be hardy pedestrians) to Porthgwarra or Saint Levan (whence Sir John Saint Aubyn’s jubilee peerage), or Cape Cornwall; but those spots are innumerable where the tourist loves to dwell. Above all places he goes to Land’s End, but never or rarely does he hie him eastward, to Perranuthno, to Cuddan Point, or to Pengersick. Civilisation goes ever westward, and, as the tourist is its peculiar product, ’tis only fitting he should follow its march.
I recollect another day, when we went to Land’s End, along ten miles of ofttimes rough and heavy walking, through Alverton’s lanes, along the short stretch of dusty road that passes by the wrecked sea-wall, designed to join those near neighbours of Penzance and Newlyn, but demolished by the first storm that rolled in from the south-west.
We sat upon the tumbled blocks of granite, and captured this view of the town, and then came upon Newlyn and its decaying school of artists. What has become of the Newlyn School, so-called, that ephemeral blossom? Are we to assume that, its leading exponent having won to academic honours, its mission is fulfilled?
They were only a dilettante set we saw at Newlyn, painting the ramshackle old bridges and their loungers. Artists have painted these old bridges over and over again, have composed groups of bronzed, blue-jerseyed fishermen leaning over their parapets and gossiping, and have given, with the convincing surety of the Newlyn touch, the laughing, tinkling stream that flows beneath the arches, presently to261 lose itself in the shallow waters of the bay. The amateur photographer, too, is never weary of well “doing” the place. I prefer the paintings to the photos, because, although I have a happy liking for realism and truth, I draw the line at the camera’s uncompromising rendition of battered tin cans, broken crockery, fish offal, old boots, and other unpicturesque and sordid objects that lazy housewives cast out of window into the water.
Sad, indeed, is the state of the picturesque stream or romantic glen that borders upon a camp of civilisation, for abundance of old boots and sardine tins are the reward of the diligent botanist or natural historian in these gates; bracken grows not more profusely than are strewn the shards and potsherds of the neighbouring town. But no matter how frequent and plentiful the wreck and refuse in the matter of bottomless kettles, superannuated umbrellas,262 and broken dishes, the Old Boot is the commonest object of the seashore, highway, by-way, lane, or ditch—no mountain too high, no valley too deep for it to be found. The angler lands it with language and dashed expectations from the trout stream; the trawler finds it unaccountably in his trawl-net when he returns from the bay; the ploughman disinters it from the field; and children dig it up from the sands: everywhere is the Old Boot. I have communed with Nature, and rambled amid the wildest and loneliest of scenes, when my meditations have been arrested by old boots, and at once the poetry and romance of the scene have flown away. Truly, there is nothing like leather.
But this is a turning out of the path; let us on to Land’s End, up Newlyn’s lanes, whose inhabitants fall into poses as the artist passes along, so sophisticated are these one-time simple folk become.
Here winding lanes lead up to the highroad, through a country where “stone walls do not a prison make,” but are fashioned into hedges; where, as you near the end of all things, trees become scarce as corn proverbially was in Egypt aforetime, finally ceasing altogether, incapable of withstanding the strenuous salt winds from the Atlantic.
The villages you pass—as Saint Buryan and Saint263 Sennen, storm-beaten and ashen-grey, wear a rugged, uncanny look, that brightens into cheerfulness only in the strongest sunshine of summer, when they become even as Saharas for dryness.
The road takes its way past Crowz-an-Wra—name of horrid seeming—on to a level bounded by the trim hills of Bartinney—Chapel Carn Brê in one direction, and rounded off by the watery horizon on the other, past the Quakers’ Burial Ground, a little parallelogram of moorland walled in with walls of grey lichen-stained granite, without door or gateway of any kind—a dismal spot, overgrown with rank grasses. Abandon hope all ye who inter here!
Passing through the desolation of Sennen village, with its grey granite church, in whose little graveyard lie many dead sailors and fishermen, in less264 than a mile you come to the westernmost point of England. Here, with the growth of touring, modern enterprise has supplanted the Sennen Inn, the original First and Last Inn in England, according which way you fare. A large building, close by the cliff’s edge, has usurped the old sign, and here the Penzance coaches set down their loads of sightseers to consume sandwiches and a variety of liquids upon the short grass.
Now, Land’s End is a spot that has little beyond its alleged farthest projection to the west to recommend it. Other points of this wild coast are grander than this place of stunted cliffs overlooking the Longships Lighthouse, with a dim glance at Scilly lying athwart the sunset. Carn Kenidjack and Cape Cornwall, for instance, to the northward, are grander, loftier, and more precipitous. The sea thunders upon the shore in their sandy coves, while here the cliffs drop sheer into the water, and you are cheated of a foreground.
But, as the chartographers have it, this is the end of all things, and therefore it is honoured of brake-parties, who sit upon the grassy cliff-top, and hold unpremeditated picnics. What of beauty the place possesses is (more or less) pleasingly diversified with broken bottles and other relics of these al fresco feasts, and miscalled “guides” hover about seeking whom they may devour.
Ugh! the greasy paper and the broken glass of Land’s End. Let us go and have tea at the First and Last House in England—the third of them. Breezy, isn’t it? Rain! by all that’s holy. Don’t put265 your umbrella up, you, mister, unless you want to be blown away into the sea. Come now, hold on tightly to this wall, and take advantage of the next lull to rush into the doorway.... That’s it.... Now, ma’am, let’s have tea, an’—er—bring me a pair o’ bellows, will you? I haven’t a breath left in my body.
Now, to examine the visitors’ books. I take it kindly of these good folk, d’you know, that they have compassion upon the aspirations of the crowd: it were hard indeed upon the Briton to deny him all means of recording his visits here. There is no suitable substance upon which he can carve his name, and the date upon which he honoured Ultima Thule with his presence: the common (or Birmingham) penknife makes no impression upon granite rocks: there is never a tree for miles around: turf is readily cut, but, by reason of its growing, affords but a fleeting means of commemoration.
But stay, you have only to take your tea at the little tea-house to be free of those visitors’ books. Also the interior walls of its rooms are whitewashed. I need scarce point out the significance of this fact. While you partake of tea, you can read the volumes already filled up: other people have evidently done the same thing, for those pages are become very horrid; rich in crumbs, flattened currants, fragments of egg-shells, tea-stains, and transparent finger-marks. Some of those pages stick together like Scots in London (or anywhere out of Scotland); you can have no scruple in separating them; they—the pages, not the Scots, are only stuck together by fortuitous fragments of butter.
266 Mem.—Napkins are not supplied by your hosts, and it would be a pity to soil your handkerchief. Therefore, wipe your fingers in the visitors’ book, being careful in the selection of a page, in case you leave your fingers in worse case than before. Having done this, you can go through the written pages and scribble insulting remarks upon the folks whose names and observations you find there. They’ll be hurt when next they come here, and see your comments, and any friends of theirs will be pleased at your ribaldries—people always like candid criticisms of their friends. Of course, you really don’t want to please anybody; but, unfortunately, it cannot sometimes be helped.
And now let’s get back to Penzance. We walked here, but it’s raining so hard that we must ride back. The brakes are just starting. “Hi, there! wait a minute: we’re coming along.” “Can’t take you, sir, we’re full up.” “But we must get back. Come now, we’ll give you five shillings a-piece for the single journey.” “Couldn’t do it, sir: ’much as my license’s worth.” “Well, look here, we’ll spring a sov. between us.” “Jump up, then, gentlemen; but pay first, y’know.” “Oh! go on, we can’t do that—we haven’t so much between us; pay you when we get to Penzance.” “No; if you can’t pay now, you’ll have to stop here or walk. I know what paying afterwards means: I couldn’t get it by law, and you wouldn’t pay without being obliged. No, thanky: drive up, Bill.”
“Bless you! To the Hesperides with all brake proprietors. Never mind, we’ll sleep at the hotel267 here.” ... “Can you put us up for the night?” “No, sir, we’re full up. There’s two gentlemen sleeping on the billiard-table, an’ I’m going to sleep on the kitchener, as I’m rather short and a bit chilly. The chambermaid’s going to sleep in the wash’us, and Boots is camping out in Deadman’s Cave, in the cliffs down there. One gentleman, a nantiquarian feller, he’s borrowed a railway-rug and gone for the night to the British Bee-’ive ’uts on Windy Downs: better keep him company, it’s rather lonely for him, poor gentleman.”
“Thanks, we’re not hankering for company. We’re going to walk back to Penzance. Good night to you.”
A ten miles’ walk through pelting rain and along lonely roads is scarcely a cheering experience. The whisky with which we strove to keep out the chills was “exhibited” neat; water was not needed, for we were speedily wet through.
Supper that night was partaken of in a manner268 strictly private, for we were wrappaged round about in our lodgings at Penzance in a fashion, dry and comfortable perhaps, but too classically picturesque for aught but a prim and proper seclusion.
Something of this description, though perhaps not so pronounced, is always going forward at Land’s End in the tourist season. Land’s End is effectually vulgarised, and despite Kingsley’s verses, it is impossible to come to it in any other than a scoffing spirit. Read of Land’s End, and retain the majestic ideal269 conjured up by the name of it. Visit the place, and you find nothing but sordid surroundings.
We visited, on another day of happier auspices, Carn Kenidjack and Cape Cornwall,—those grand and lonely bulwarks of the land,—and returned by way of the little township of Saint Just-in-Penwith to Penzance, regaining by this unfrequented route something of the lost romance which had lured us to take this alliterative trip from Paddington to Penzance.
It was now late in the season: cold winds and short days came on apace, with rains that drove the tourists home. We, too, packed our knapsacks for the last time, and presently were whirled up to Paddington and London streets in the Cornishman express.
PRINTED BY BALLANTYNE, HANSON AND CO.
EDINBURGH AND LONDON.
1 A recipe strongly in favour with the artistic and literary world.
2 June 11th. The apparent error arises through March 25th being at that time still occasionally considered as New Year’s Day.
3 We have been told lately that it was not Napoleon but an American orator named Adams who first applied this epithet to us. If this is true, it comes with an additional bad grace, for whatever right a Frenchman has to such a sneer, certainly no American can claim it.
5 Than satirical pamphlets.
Lieth the Body of Robert
Comonly Called Bone Phillip
who died July 27th 1793
Aged 65 Years,
At whose request The following lines are here inserted.
7 N.B.—Not responsible for pronunciation of the English language.
8 I’m afraid your rhymes, Mr. Poet, are somewhat indiscreet.
9 See how sadly the exigencies of rhyme fetter the poet: the palate and not the lip give the sense of taste.
10 Anglice, farm-yards.
11 This seems a peculiarly modern touch.
12 Fill, dear reader, these blanks à discrétion.
13 Corruption also of Phillis.
Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they were not changed.
Simple typographical errors were corrected; unbalanced quotation marks were remedied.
Illustrations in this eBook have been positioned between paragraphs and outside quotations.
The original List of Illustrations (LoI) distinguished between full-page illustrations that “faced” pages, and mid-page illustrations that were “on” pages. This eBook does not make that distinction. In versions that support hyperlinks, the links lead to the actual illustrations, regardless of where they appear.
Transcriber used the List of Illustrations to add captions to illustrations lacking them, and removed the printer’s notes regarding the pages to which some illustrations should be facing. The captionless illustrations near the beginning of the book are decorative.
The index was not checked for proper alphabetization or correct page references.
Page 163: The text on the mural was printed in Black Letter.
Page 185: The symbol before “War Office” is an up-arrow.
Page 191: The text taken from the chancel was printed in Black Letter.
The quotation beginning on page 205 was printed in Black Letter.
Page 217: There is a macron above the ‘m’ in the word “Comaund”.
Page 218: “and waits are lingering” may be a misprint for “waifs”.