Charles Buxton.

Notes of thought online

. (page 3 of 20)
Online LibraryCharles BuxtonNotes of thought → online text (page 3 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

different from six months ago. But how much thought
and heart have I given it ; I have in a year and a half
learnt to put a brigade of four battalions through thirty
or forty movements in the field." He studied tactics
with enthusiasm, and whilst still a lieutenant, he arranged
small sham-fights at Hampstead, Cromer, and Fox
Warren. He thus describes one of these : " Oct. 6,
1860. Cromer. The morning looked horrible, windy
and black ; but in the afternoon it was still and warm
and dry. I planned the sham fight again with Mr. Scott,

and made a great variety of arrangements

By 1.30 the various corps assembled, and marched to
the shore, where it took a long while to serve out ammu-
nition, &c. I arranged the corps in two bodies ;
the Cromer, Stalham, and Norwich corps as enemy along
the sea, with boats to represent the landing ; my men,
the Aylsham and Fakenham, with my seventeen Cavalry
at the foot of the cliff. We soon began to ascend, firing
fiercely on the enemy, and great fun it was ; then they
attacked us on the new Lighthouse hill ; were repulsed
and pursued ; but charged us, and we retreated. Finally
we made a grand charge with fixed bayonets and cavalry,
and drove them from the old Lighthouse, and gradually
along the cliffs and fields to the gangway, below which
they turned at bay, and ended with a grand charge and
hurrah. It lasted two and a half hours, and was
immensely successful ; many thousands of spectators, who
seemed to enjoy it much. Then we had a most capital


dinner, and very good speeches. After this we hod a
brief night attack and firing as a finale. Altogether it was
a most successful day. I was so glad to find that, when
sufficiently interested, I can manage a complicated piece
of business, which this really was, as I had to get the
various corps together, plan the sham-fight and command
both sides, provide a dinner, &c., &c." He was speedily
promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st
Tower Hamlets Administrative Battalion, and acted
several times as one of the brigadiers at the Easter
Monday Reviews. Nothing delighted him more than to
give a sham-fight. It was his pride to invent the move-
ments himself, and to make them more lively and
interesting than those of the ordinary field days. What,
indeed, could be more delightful to all concerned than
such a day as that of his last sham-fight at Fox Warren,
on Saturday, the 30th July, 1870 ? It was a splendid
and munificent fete, with the incomparable entertainment
of military movement and show. The lovely Surrey
landscape, with its woods and hills, made a perfect scene,
of which Fox Warren was the central gem. There Mr.
and Mrs. Buxton had collected a host of friends, whilst
3,000 Volunteers, gathered from London and the county,
drew together under the two standards of attack and
defence. The movements were arranged so as to offer
the chief points of interest to the view of spectators
clustered on the brow of the Hanger Hill ; and the
excitement culminated when Colonel Buxton, at the head
of the English force, after he had skilfully thrown for-
ward his riflemen into the woods on the right and the
left, drove the enemy up the open pasture that stretches
down from the hill. It is pleasant to remember him in
his generous pride on that sunny afternoon, as he led his
battalion to the charge, or as he afterwards presided with
his own thoughtful kindness over several hundred guests
on the Fox Warren lawn.


Fox W T arren, Mr. Bnxton's seat near Weybridge, was
his own creation, and the embodiment and illustration of
his most cherished tastes. He was a devoted lover of


rural scenery, of animal life, and of picturesque archi-
tecture ; and these he could enjoy with ever increasing
richness at Fox Warren. As this charming country home
grew in beauty under his hands, it is not wonderful that
he became more and more attached to it.

He inherited from his father a love of animals, which
he had every opportunity of indulging when a boy at
Northrepps. He and his brothers were encouraged to
collect birds and other animals for a small museum of
their own, and to keep various pets. At twelve years of
age, Charles writes in his diary, "I find it a great
temptation, and one extremely difficult to overcome, to
think of Natural History at times when I ought not : I
mean at Church, at night when I am in bed, &c." One
permanent liking of his, with which his friends could not
always sympathise, was for snakes. This began early.
When he is eleven, he mentions going into some lodgings,
and records, " Fowell, 1, Christiana, Lizzy, and the snake,
are the persons that came." This way of speaking of
his animal friends as persons was oue of his amusing
habits. One of the earliest stories about his infancy
shows him making a confidant of a cat. It refers to his
first introduction, at five years of age, to a Quaker's
meeting. " Charley was at the meeting on Sunday
morning, and did not like it at all. He was afterwards
heard telling the cat all about it : ' Puss, do you know
they're such naughty people here ; they never go to
church, and they did not take off my hat, and they sat
and sat such a long time, and at last an old woman stood
up, with no ribbons on her bonnet, and said something
I don't know what and afterwards we went on sitting
a long time, and I was so tired ; and don't you ever go
to meeting, Puss ! ' " Soon after his marriage he observed
in a letter, " I only want a companionable reptile to make
my domestic joys complete ; it is so painful to come
home from town and not to find even an adder to receive
me." A striking illustration of his tenderness towards
animals is given by his friend the Rev. E. H. Loring :
" I remember once, as I was riding very fast with him
over a common, we passed the gate of a farmyard, in
which a sheep-dog was tied up and was howling piteously


at his captivity. Charles Buxton instantly pulled up his
horse, saying to me, ' Do stop a minute, I must speak to
that poor dog.' He dismounted, and, leaning as far ns
he could over the gate, he called out, in the kindest tone,
a few sentences of sympathy and encouragement to the
poor captive, and then got on his horse again, and rode
on with me as before." There was a Boys' Refuge in
Whitechapel which he was accustomed to visit, and I
remember his telling me one day that he had been doing
two things to improve the boys ; he had been teaching
them that the love of money was the root of all good, and
he had given them some snakes for pets. He tried once,
unsuccessfully, to rear an infant crocodile, and he was
enterprising enough to answer an advertisement offering
some live rattlesnakes for sale. He drew back under
Mrs. Buxton's persuasion, before making an engagement
to purchase these pets ; but the advertisers, who were
Americans, stuck to their one chance of disposing of
their property. "' One lovely summer's evening," writes
Mrs. Buxton, " we were on the lawn with our own child-
ren and some others besides, when a fly drove up to the
door, out of which got two Yankees, and, bearing a
hamper between them, joined us on the lawn. They
proceeded coolly to open the hamper, and take out half a
dozen rattlesnakes, which were turned loose upon the
lawn, shaking the rattles in their tales, to Charles's mixed
delight and alarm, and to my unmixed horror. In broad
Yankee assured us that the fangs were taken out,
and they handled them themselves with perfect uncon-
cern. They said they had to go to America the next
day, and must get rid of the rattlesnakes before they
went, so they would let us have them for nothing.
Charles was extremely tempted, and was trying to devise
some place in which they could be safely kept, for the
men owned that in a month or two the poisonous fangs
would grow again. However, I remonstrated so strongly
that he gave up the idea, which, indeed, he would not
really have carried out, only he had been so fascinated by
the possibility of keeping rattlesnakes. The men then said
that they could not take the snakes back ; they must kill
them, and they retired into a back yard for this purpose.

BIRDS. [33]

Charles could not bear to have the dead bodies thrown
away, and they were again packed in their hamper, and
the Americans were sent to his bird-stuffer, with a note,
saying that he should like to have two stuffed for him-
self, and the man might do what he liked with the
others. The hamper was left at the bird-stuffer's house ;
he happened to be out, and his wife opened the hamper,
and immediately a rattlesnake reared up its head, to
her unspeakable horror. She banged down the lid,
and fastened it securely. When her husband returned,
they were in great trouble and perplexity, thinking they
had a hamper full of live rattlesnakes. It proved, how-
ever, that only one had revived, and this they managed
to kill."

It cannot be said that Mr. Buxton ever became a
scientific naturalist, but in one branch of Natural
History, the study of birds and their ways, his know-
ledge was much beyond that of the ordinary observer.
In his boyhood he obtained a remarkable familarity
with British birds, and knew discriminatingly their notes
and their habits. It was a never ceasing delight to him
to improve and to digest this knowledge, and he wrote
many papers about birds, with some design of making a
book of them. At one time he pleased himself with
devising an ingenious new classification of birds, based
upon the adaptation of their organs to their distinctive
modes of obtaining food. The last composition he sent
to the press was a paper which appeared in Macmillan's
Magazine for August, 1871, describing a visit to the
haunt of the " Scoulton pies." But he was best known
as an ornithologist to the public by his persevering
endeavours to domesticate foreign birds cockatoos,
parrots, and the like both at Northrepps and at Fox
AVarren. He read a paper describing the history of this
experiment to a party of the British Association for the
Advancement of Science which visited Cromer in 1868,
from which it appeared that these brilliant birds lived
happily in the woods adjoining the houses, but that it,
was almost impossible to preserve them from being shot
when they strayed a little away from their homes. The
attempt, therefore, was only partially successful. He


endeavoured similarly to add animation to his garden
grounds by nailing boxes to the trees for other birds
to breed in, and he was never tired of watching the
playful life which he thus brought near him. One scene
of it is photographed in a paper which he dictated when
he was recovering from an illness, in June, 1867 : " As
with the luxurious feeling of convalescence I draw my
easy-chair to the window, I watch with much amusement
the proceedings of the birds on the lawn below me.
First of all, half-a-dozen little nun-pigeons come whirring
down from the gables above, two of them settling on the
terra-cotta basket hanging on an iron tripod, and con-
taining the birds' food, the others on the lawn near,
where they remain pecking about. Presently they are
all scattered in a moment, as a great white cockatoo
swoops down upon the tripod from a neighbouring tree,
and is immediately joined by a grey parrot, who sits
close by him, and they dip their heads alternately in the
hempseed before them. Another moment, and a jackdaw
drops down upon the grass, and, cocking his head on
one side, examines the possibility of a theft, but he
cannot screw his courage to the sticking point till three
others have come to help ; then he springs up, and lights
for a moment on the side of the basket, but the cockatoo
sticks up his yellow crest, and the grey parrot makes a
determined dig at his ribs, and he is down again in a
twinkling. Another and another try the same game,
and at last one or two succeed in carrying off a morsel.
They look extra shy on the occasion, but they always
have an absurd air of fancying (and much relishing the
fancy) that they are robbing somebody whenever they go
to feed ; and as I walk in the garden, and see the know-
ing looks they cast at each other, as they sit on the
gables, I can almost hear them say, 'There's that fool,
Buxton, again how shanny he must be, to put out all
that hempseed, and never to find out that we get the
best half of it ! ' Poor things, they are more than
welcome to all they can get ; but I confess it does
aggravate me nearly beyond endurance to see twenty or
thirty vulgar sparrows increasing my seedman's bill.
Now another jackdaw alights on the lawn. He evidently


does not belong to the other set, who by this time are
assembled round a terra-cotta vase, set below the basket
to catch the seed, and where they pick up the morsels
that fall from their grand neighbours. I can see that
the new Jack is not quite easy in his mind, from the
way he straddles his legs, and then sidles up with an
affected air of unconcern, but is instantly snubbed and
sent away with a flea in his ear by one of the others. In
a moment they all scurry away, as a troop of four little
girls, with shouts of laughter, come up, one of them
riding on, and two leading a Newfoundland dog ; but
he stops short, not thinking that dogs were made for
carrying, till one child entices him on again with a bit of
cake. A large tame cockatoo, who has hitherto been
hidden in a tree above, catches sight of this, and
instantly skims down, and receives his share from the
little girl's hand. But now Tory, the dog, remembers
the rabbit that he has been scraping after in the dell
close by ever since the election of 1865, during which I
bought and christened him ; and off he sets at a
gallop, with the children flying after him in vain, for
he vanishes utterly from sight in a hole, which he has
made into almost a cavern, and so ends this little

In his love of horses he was a worthy son of his father,
and he had a keen appetite for the excitement of the
chase. He thought that he had some special timidity to
overcome in following the hounds, but he certainly
overcame it, and he was known as a bold and eager rider
in the counties surrounding the metropolis. The follow-
ing entry describes his feeling about hunting : " Dec.
11, 1865. Went out with the stag at Cobham, and
enjoyed it intensely, especially the part where I took the
lead and was almost alone with the hounds, which excited
me immensely. We had a good deal of fencing, and
Holstein carried me nobly. I am utterly resolved to
stick to the hounds like grim death, and take my own
line. If I do hunt, let me make the very utmost of it,
instead of marring it by giving way to timidity." For
many years from his coming to London he hunted
chiefly in Hertfordshire, having as his constant associate

c 2


his cousin and the companion of his boyhood, Mr.
Kichard Hoare. Latterly, he preferred to hunt with
Lord Petre's stag-hounds, and enjoyed the opportunity
this gave him of making a warm friendship with one
better known otherwise than as a sportsman, Mr.
Anthony Trollope. How thoroughly he entered into the
real spirit of the chase is best shown by some verses he
composed a few days after a bad fall (April 9th, 1867).
The poetical merit of this piece is the more remarkable,
because Mr. Buxton had never practised himself in
writing verse, though he laboured much to acquire a
good prose style. It is very curious that this solitary
production of his muse should have been composed
whilst he was lying in a darkened room, suffering from
concussion of the brain. It was the history of the run
which ended with his fall.


Forrard away ! Forrard away !

Cheerly, ye beauties, forrard away !

They flash like a gleam o'er the upland brow,

They flash like a gleam o'er the russet plow,

O'er the green wheatland, fair to see ;

Over the pasture, over the lea.

Forrard away forrard away !

Cheerly, ye beauties, forrard away !


How soft lies the valley asleep below,
In the golden sunshine, as on we go,
Down the long sweep of the hillside bare,
Drinking sweet draughts of the vernal air !
The lark is raining his music down,
The partridge whirrs up from the grass-tuft brown.
Forrard away, &c.


A stiff ox fence with its oaken rail
l{.-tj>, rap, go the hoofs like a peasant's flail ;
A five foot drop see, the Roding brook,
Send him at it, don't stop to look ;
Dash through the quickset into the lane,
Out on the other side, forrard again
Forrard away, &c.



Carefully now, at the ditch and bank,
Into the copse wood thick and dank ;
The violet hangs her timid head,
And cowers down in her lowly bed ;
The primrose opes wide her golden eyes,
And gazes upward in mute surprise.
Forrard away, &c.


A moment's check, one cast around ;
'Tis forrard again, with a furious bound
Mellow and sweet their voices sound.
Steady, my pet, at the five-barred gate,
Lightly over with heart elate ;
Up with the elbow, down with the head,
Crash through the bullfinch like shot of lead.
Forrard away, &c.


Look at the hounds, their muzzles high ;
A sheet would cover them ; on they fly ;
No music now, not a whimpering cry
Neck or nothing : we'll do or die.
Swinging along at a slashing pace,
With souls on fire each risk to face,
Forrard away, &c.


Thread the hazels ; over the stile
'Tis forty-five minutes, each five a mile.
Hurrah for the staghounds ! let others sneer
At the fatted calf, and the carted deer ;
But we know, as we feel our hunter's stride,
A man must be a man who with these can ride.
Forrard away, &c.

Besides the naturalist's love of nature, there was in
Mr. Buxton a genuine poetical passion for its more beau-
tiful and radiant aspects. He had less of the power of
sympathising with the gloomy and the terrible in nature ;
he could scarcely be happy unless the weather was fine.
But a forest glade sparkling in the early sunlight would
fill him with that jwzm, of delight overflowing the capacity
of enjoyment, which is the sign of poetical susceptibility.
It was at Luccombe, in Somersetshire, when he went
there as a private pupil, that he first became conscious of


the vague yearnings excited by solitary wanderings
amongst glens and hills ; and one of the most vivid
pleasures of his after life was caused by revisiting, when
he was no longer alone, a particular dell which he had
discovered and made a spiritual treasure of his own at
seventeen. He was prepared, therefore, by his own ex-
periences to appreciate the Excursion of Wordsworth,
and all poetry which reflected the natural scenery with
which he was familiar. His delight in giving expression
to the enjoyment which he derived from the observation
of nature may be seen in the following extracts : " Oct.
1849. Bad sport ; but I greatly enjoyed the lovely
views, in the mild sunny afternoon. We were on the
hills, which looked rich in their autumn clothing of dark-
red fern and heather, and green oaks in the dells.
Below lay the undulating plain, with the villages clus-
tered round with trees ; the squire's house nestling in a
thick wood, the smoke rising from the farmhouses, the
picturesque grey church standing like the venerable ruler
of the hamlet, and, beyond, the still blue sea with white
ships asleep on its calm surface ; and the soft sound
of the lowing of oxen and the cackling of geese came to
us from far away, mingled with the low murmuring of the
gentle sea. It was a most lovely scene, one full of
peace." "Oct. 10, 1849. I wandered this afternoon
along the shore. How grand the sea was ! The sky
was dark and gloomy, and the sea raving in an angry
mood, whitening billows rising as far as the horizon,
while the cliffs frowned down upon the scene. The sea
is almost the only one of nature's works which has no
growth in it, which does nothing. Stupendous, magnifi-
cent, mighty as he is, he has swept backwards and for-
wards, to and fro, for thousands of years, and with
f'/tf/l remit ? None ! With all those terrible energies,
with all that mass of force, he has not accomplished one
single work, or gone forward in any single thing ; while
during each of these years the gentle earth has been
clothing herself in her mantle of beauty, and bearing
fruit and flowers, for her children's good. Does he com-
plain so wofully, and roar as with a troubled mind, be-
cause he is aweary of his do-nothing life ? There is


something almost pathetic in the unchanging, mono-
tonous, roar of his sullen waves on an afternoon like this.
There is a disconsolate, despairing sound in it, which
might almost touch one's heart ; but I think one feels a
sort of dislike to him, in spite of the reverence which he
inspires." "July, 1852. Up at half past five. Another
glorious morning, and sat in the forest, reading Words-
worth's Excursion; much enjoying the brilliant sun-
shine, the fresh ferns, and the soft shadows, and the
serene stillness of nature. No time more delicious, more
soothing, more elevating, than the morning hours of a
bright day." "March, 1853. A charming half-hour
before breakfast, wandering in T. park. Sun and hoar-
frost, cushats cooing, rooks, &c. I was struck with the
interest of the truth, that nothing so elevates or so softens
the character as intimate communication with outward
ntiture, with the sweet, gentle, loving, cheerful, truthful
spirit that breathes in the woods and fields on a bright
spring morning. It points to the oneness of the natural
and moral worlds, one God, and the same nature under
various forms." "March 1866. What really suits me
is reading, writing, society, the country (which I enjoy

beyond expression), and hunting I see that

very few persons have such an intensely vivid perception
as I have of all that is picturesque and lovely. My rides
and walks are a continual feast of discoveries of the
beautiful which I see are rarely made by others. This is
a wonderful source of pleasure."

Being thus drawn to them by a poetical temperament,
he became a hearty lover of the poets, and treasured in
his memory much of the verse of Shakespeare and Milton,
of Wordsworth and Tennyson. In a fair degree, all good
art found in him a sympathising student and critic. He
had the advantage of visiting Italy and Greece when his
taste was just ready to receive the stimulus given to it
by the remains of antiquity. In 1839 and 1840 he spent
some time at Rome and at Athens ; and besides enjoying
travel as a boy would, he made the most conscientious use
of the opportunities of self-improvement thus afforded
him. " I call to mind," says Mr. Richards, " the time
when, and the way in which, his taste for architecture


once more how happy he was in his lot. His father was
worthy of the deep reverence, his mother of the admiring
tenderness, which he felt towards them ; and the warm
attachment which bound him to his brothers and sisters
was strengthened and sustained through life by well-
deserved mutual esteem. Charles's childish griefs were
caused by partings, or by fears and anxieties for others,
which easily moved him to tears. He always gave a
ready admiration to his companions and friends, and he
had in turn so great a desire to please those whom he
loved or esteemed that he was apt to be made unhappy
by fancying that he perceived in them symptoms of
indifference towards him. This was one of the indications
of a certain feminine fibre in his nature, to which his
attractiveness was no doubt partly due. His affectionate
disposition was guarded by a delicacy which was never
impaired, and an innocence which never had anything to
conceal. Mr. Richards, who was his constant companion
for about four years of his opening youth, first as tutor
and then as college friend, observes of him, " A gentler,
brighter, more loving spirit one more open to the
noblest impulses, or more uniformly actuated by the
highest principles I never knew. His was a mind of
spotless purity, of the most exquisite refinement, with
the loftiest aspirations. Such was his temper that,
during the whole of our close intercourse, I do not remem-
ber that a harsh word ever passed between us." When
he came up from college to London, he lived for some
time with his brother, Sir Edward Buxton, making one
of his family circle. " He was such a rare brother to
me," writes Lady Buxton. " I often think of those
happy years he spent with us .... He became a most
delightful and important inmate, a fine example of

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryCharles BuxtonNotes of thought → online text (page 3 of 20)