F. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) Darton.

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

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There can have been few villages in Dorset and Somerset,
west of a line drawn from Bath to Wareham, which did not
contain folk who had seen their friends' flesh displayed in
public, or heard of the price paid for a kinsman's living body
for toil in the plantations, or for a girl sold to a Court lady
for a servant. Jeffreys' chair and a spike on which a rebel's
head was set are still preserved at Dorchester in the museum
opposite his house : it can hardly have been accident that
has distinguished and kept them. Local memories show
how deep and intimate was the touch of his work. One man
(" Bm^n-guts ") sold furze to the authorities for bm-ning
rebel entrails : his horses one by one pined and died. A
woman said it did her eyes good to see a very old man



PUIXCES IX 1 LUaiT 185

caUvd Laikc hanged. She lost her sight within a short
time.

One man of Waieham. Thomas Delacourt, was present
at the final stage in this horrible drama. Quarters of some
(if the victims were exposed on Bloody Bank at Wareham —
the place gets its name therefrom. Delacourt and some
friends stole the remains and buried them. Delacourt was
one of the fiist to join William of Orange, and w^nt to
London in his train : and it fell to him to be made sentry
over Jeffreys when the judge, in the j^enr of that more
successful Revolution, was cast into the Tower, where he
died.

" Your ^laie.stv mav think it is the misfortune I now lie
under makes me make this application to you. but I do
assure your Majest}' it is the remorse 1 now have in me of
the wTong I have done you in several things, and now in
taking up arms against you ; for my taking up arms, it w^as
never in my thoughts since the King died ; the Prince and
Princess of Orange will be witness for me of the assurance
I gave them, that I would never stir against you, but my
misfortune was such as to meet with some horrid people
that made me believe things of yom' INIajesty, and gave me
so many false arguments, that I was fully led away to
believe that it was a siiame and a sin before God not to
do it."*

James 11, it has been aigued, never received tliat
miserable letter, written by Monmouth at Ringwood soon
after his capture : certainly the poor folk of the West
who treasured his unhappy memory never heard of it.

♦ From tho Camden Society's Papers, 1879.



" All objection may ix^rlmjis be apprehended from the more delicate, that

this dish is too common and vulgar ; for what else Ls the subject of nil

the romances, novels, pla>-s, and poems, with which the stalls abomiil ?

Many exquisite viands might be rejected by the epicure, if it was a

sufficient cause for his contenming of them as common ai\d vulgar,

that something wius to lx> found in the most paltry allej-s imder the

same name. In reality, true nature is as diflieult to 1ki met with in

authors, as the Bayonno ham, or Bologna sausage, is to be foimd in

the ahoiw."

HENRY FIELDING,

Tom Jonca.



THE AGE OF ELEOANC^E



South Plkkott




THE eighteenth century, whose slim, elegant, dry
hands still clutch our social order secretly and
often, is a disease like the measles. Sooner or
later all wlio are interested in the more humane letters
catch it. My own long-past attack I can still regard with
afTection, and I like to see others succumbing to the infection,
and exhibiting the symptoms in print. ]Uit I feel a little
unhappy when I come, cured, and, I hope, immune from
fresh attacks, to eighteenth-century Dorset. I sec the
rufTles, the grace, the domestic pomp, the complacency, the
emergence of the bourgeois into a certain social autonomy,
and, at tlu^ end, the legions thundering past, going decor-
ously to death. I should once have liked to make that story
either an epic or a triolet : it w(ndd have had to be one or
the other, while the disease was still contagious : and now
I can achieve neither.

189



190 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

There is, it is true, an element of epic in the period, and
that I have cut off bodily and made into a separate chapter,
in defiance of chronological order. The seamen of the Dorset
littoral have always been heroic ventm^ers. In what
remains after the mariners have been detached, there are,
between 1688 and about 1831, three important threads in
Dorset life, all woven together, but making a pattern which
is]more easily understood in the separate threads than in the
complete design. There is the social side of life, lived by
the gentry and middle classes ; there is the agricultural
interest, developing, from the capitalist point of view,
almost incredibly dm-ing this epoch — and altering the whole
condition of rural life in England ; and there are the
cheerful semi-domestic scenes which close the century
with the appearance of Farmer George at Weymouth. I
cannot make any one of these spheres of activity (the cant
phrase) either wholly epic or wholly elegant. But if I take
them separately — and again independently of chronological
order — it may be possible to provide some sort of per-
spective view of the whole.

There are indeed plenty of eminent social figures in the
county's life under Anne and the Georges. But I will
begin with one of the less fashionable of them — one whose
labours make possible the knowledge of all the rest.

The life and work of John Hutchins, the historian of
Dorset, are a genuine monument of the most liberal side
of the^eighteenth-century spirit. The very self-satisfaction
of the period itself became a virtue for his benefit. Once a
proposal was approved in the correct quarters, the Nobility
and Gentry could not but exhaust the resources of polite
learning in forwarding the cause. This son of "an honest
parochial priest, a character esteemed by all good men, and
reverenced even by the profane," accomplished a great
work, modestly, sincerely, and finally, in no small measure
because social conditions allowed him leisure and encouraged
his activities.

He was born in. 1698, and educated at the excellent



THE AGE OF ELEGANTE 101

gi-animar scliool at Dorchester. He had the unusual ex-
perience of being at two colleges at Oxford and at two
universities — at Hart Hall and Balliol. Oxford ; he took
his B.A. degree there, and his M.A. degi-ee at Cambridge.
He was admitted to Holy Orders about 1723, and became
" curate and usher " to the j)luralist \\ho was at that time
vicar of Milton Abbas and master of the ancient grammar
school there : a school subsequently transferred to Wimborne
and of high repute all through the West in later years.

It was through the liberality and help of two friends,
Jacob Bancks and Browne \Villis, that he undertook what
even the austere Dictionary of National Biography calls
'• this noble history." He seems to have been ill-titted for
the duties of a parish priest. " He deserved the character
of a sound Divine rather than of an eminent preacher.
His delivery was no ways engaging ; and his discourses were
not generally adapted to the capacity of his hearers."
Later in life he sufTered from gout, bad sight, deafness, and
failing voice. He seems to have incurred the disapproval
of his parishioners at Wareham, which living he held, in
the common eighteenth-century way, together with that of
8w\Te. He was also for a time rector of Melcombe Horsey.
He died in 1773. " The profit arising from his history was
the chief provision he made for his family. Whether the
benefit already received, or hereafter expected from hence,
be sufficient to encourage others to engage in a like laborious
undertaking, is a question much to be doubted."*

Two incidents in his life at Wareham are as typical
of his period as his historical labours. Almost the entire
town was burnt to ashes in 17(i2. The Dorset towns and
villages of to-day owe much of their architectural charm
to those otherwise uiihaj)py fires : Blamlford, Beaminster,
much of Bridport and Dorchester, the best of Wareham,
rose from their ashes.

The fire, incidentally, almost cut short the History.

* Tho quutationx aro from tho biographical notice in the standard and
loAt edition of l\\o History.



192 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

The rectory was burnt, and only " the care and presence of
mind of Mrs. Hutchins, not without hazard to herself " —
the historian himself being absent, presumably on one of his
many necessary journeys to collections of books and
archives elsewhere — saved the MS.

The other event of note was his engagement of a curate
to take his duty during absence in London and Oxford.
" He was mistaken in his man. His friends informed him
he had engaged a Methodist, but he proved to be a madman.
Yet his noise procured him admirers, and in so high a degree,
that, had he been dismissed absolutely on the return of the
rector, there had been an open rupture between the minister
and many of his parishioners, who entered into a voluntary
subscription to support their favourite lecturer. He
[Hutchins] judged so well of the temper of his people that
he appeased the storm by not resisting it ; and in a little
time the poor man was confined in a madhouse, and Mr.
Hutchins at ease by the good offices of a more regular
assistant."

This distrust of " enthusiasm "... I am reminded of
one of the inimitable Browne and Sheridan epitaphs in
Frampton Church. The family even in the nineteenth
century kept up the eighteenth-century mode in their
obituaries, and it is recorded of one of them that she was
" polite without flattery, generous without ostentation,
pious without enthusiasm."

I shall deal briefly later with the Dorset activities of the
greatest of all " enthusiasts," John Wesley, the descendant
of the Charmouth jDarson. Vigour not less notable than his,
but of quite another kind, was displayed by two of the more
eminent social figures in the county's history. In writing
of Shaftesbury I have mentioned the behaviour of two
" nabobs " who devoted their wealth to politics. The
perfect nabob of all time was a Dorset man.

From about the year 1675 onwards to that of the glorious
Revolution, the Honourable East India Company showed an
increasing anxiety about the activities of a certain " inter-



THE AGE OF ELEGANCE 193

loper " in Bengal. He was trading there — and trading
successfully — in spite of their exclusive charter. " Send him
home," they instructed their local Councils. The Councils
conve^'cd this wish to the interloper, and he promised to
go home. But he was " a fellow of a haughty, hulfying,
daring temper," and he didn't go. On tiie contrary, he
visited certain towns ''in gi-eat state, with four or live
files of soldiers in red coats, well armed, and great attendance
of native soldiers, with trumpeters, and taking up his
quarters with the Dutch, by tiie name of the New Company's
Agent, bespattering the Old Company."

The enterprising competitor was at length apprehended
and fined £1000. But the Company for some obseure
reason remitted £G00 of this, and in November, 1G88,
admitted him into their freedom gratis. This seems to have
been a futile proceeding (unless the records themselves err
in regard to dat<>s) ; for intermittently during the next
six years the same complaints of interloping wore made,
and the same successful competition carried on. In the
intervals of making money, tiie ingenious gentleman re-
turned to his native place, Blandford St. Mary's, in Dorset,
and among other proceedings, got himself elected Member of
Parliament for Old Sarum, a political unit with a somewhat
lurid history. His epitaj)h in the parish church suggests
that his efforts in church restoration carried him to a
heavenly mansion : tiierc is no housing or population
problem in heaven if his actual achievements sullice to
get him a mansion.

Finally, Thomas Pitt (for that was his name) was appointed
— by the Company itself ! — President of J^'ort St. George,
which now we know better as Madras : to the scandal of
the shareholders, who at the next election turned out
eighteen of tiu' Committee whidi appointed him. Hy a
delightful irony, one of the Nab(jb's chief troubles while
in oflice was the activity of another interloper — his own
cousin, John Pitt, His orders to Cous n John come well
from the fornur "New Company's Agent": " Jf you
o



194 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

pass by hero you must behave yourself very civilly, no
drums, flags nor trumpets within our bounds, for here shall
be but one Governor whilst I am here."*

It was while he was Governor that he acquired the
famous Pitt Diamond, whose curious adventures are a
solace to the superstitious. He paid £20,400 for it : it was
sold to the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France, in 1717,
for about £135,000 (2,000,000 livres).t It cost £5000 to cut,
and the chips alone yielded £8000. Pitt was suspected of
having obtained it by crooked means, but was able to dis-
prove the charge. He collected many other stones, and by
his indubitable commercial genius amassed a large fortune,
which he invested in many estates in England, among
others that of Woodyates in Cranborne Chase. The rest of
his life, for all practical purposes, was spent in politics. He
died in 1726. He begat Thomas Pitt, Baron Londonderry,
governor of the Leeward Islands ; John Pitt, governor
of the Bermudas ; a daughter who married the first Earl
Stanhope ; and (his eldest son) Robert Pitt. Robert Pitt
begat William Pitt, Secretary of State, first Earl of Chatham
(" My Lord, I am sure I can save this country, and no one
else can "). William Pitt begat William Pitt, First Lord of
the Treasury (" England has saved herself by her com'age :
she will save Europe by her example "). Government was
inherent in the family, like wi^iting in that of the Slier idans,
who also, resident aliens till they became acclimatized,
dwelt in Dorset.

There had been Pitts in Dorset for at least a hundred
years. One, born at Blandford in the same year as Thomas
Pitt, but apparently only distantly related, was an extremely
competent physician and writer. He upheld — and it needed
support in his day — the professional point of view. His
work on The Craft and Frauds of Physic Exposed was a
vigorous assault on quackery, and what we should call patent

* The quotations and most of the information are from the Hakluyt
Society's edition of the Diary of William Hedges, edited by Col. Yule.

t Napoleon, Thomas Pitt's great-grandson's mortal enemy, had it set
in the hilt of his sword.



THE AGE OF ELEGANCE 195

medicines, and ill-equipped compounding of prescriptions.
Another of the name and family was Christopher Pitt, a
none too exciting poet, rector of Pimpernc 1722-08 : "he
lived innocent and tlied beloved." Of yet another I speak
later.

But Dorset did not produce Pitts alone. It gave England
another illustrious family of administrators. John Churchill,
first Duke of Marlborough, was the son of Sir \\ inston
Churchill of Dorset and of St. John's College, Oxford.
This Winston Churchill (by marriage and circumstances
later transplanted across the border a few miles into Devon)
was a prominent Royalist in Dorset during the Civil War,
and afterwards M.P. for \\'eymoutli and Lyme in turn.
The name of Churchill in those days had some variety of
connotation. Marlborough's sister was a mistress of James
II ; Churchill the bookseller, Dunton's friend, was the son of
a Chm-chill of Dorchester, for which he was afterwards
M.P. ; Charles Chm-chill's respectable fame as a general
was to be overshadowed by his great brother's ; and yet
another son of Sir Winston, George, the admiral, " governed
the navy as his brother governed the army."

Neither the prototypical Nabob nor the nabobs of Shaftes-
bury, however, were the finest fruit of political life in that
century. The most swollen figme of a diseased political
age was the man Dodington. George Bubb Dodington —
is it a possible name ? He himself eventually improved upon
it, at any rate, for he concealed it under the title of Lord
Melcombe. It began originally as George Bubb, tout
court, for his father was said to be Jeremias Bubb, an apothe-
cary of Weymouth : alleged also in other ([uarters to have
been by race Irish, which might account for his son's singular
gift for devious politics. An uncle died and left to George,
when ho was ab(jut twenty-nine, the estate of Eastbury in
Dorset, and a large fortune, whereupon, being already ALP.
for Winchelsoa, he commenced wire-puller in a luoro
advanced degree.

1 <l<> not propose to go into (hr <»bscure and disingenuous



196 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

policies Dodington pursued, first in Walpole'e behalf, and
afterwards against him, and from time to time on whatever
side suited his love of secret importance. But some account
of his activities, fortified by quotations, may be of use in
illuminating the political aspect of country life.

The main part of his celebrated but very dull Diary
begins, for all practical purposes, with the offer in 1749 of a
peerage by Frederick, Prince of Wales — when he came to
the crown : " and I give you leave to kiss my hand upon it
now, by way of acceptance ; which I did accordingly." He
was appointed " treasurer of the chamber," in which
capacity he afterwards was present, with at least fourteen
other persons, at the birth of Prince Frederick William,
whose mother, he says, gave him to the world " without once
complainiilg or groaning the whole time."

The Prince also promised to provide for Dodington' s
friends : which promise he duly conveyed to at least one
of them at Eastbury, a Mr. Bance, who " received my
narrative with great pleasure," Dodington gave Bance
the alternative of " the reversion of the Remittances, or
of the Board of Trade." The wise Bance said " he should
choose the Remittances, and to have the secret and govern-
ment of the bank, as what he thought would render him most
useful to his friends ; to which I agreed, and promised to
undertake the affair with the prince." And so ad infinitum.

Unfortunately for these patriotic enterprises. Prince
Frederick, to Dodington's mortification, had the same
experience as Captain Blifil. In 1751, " while he was
bm-ied in deep contemplations of this kind, one of the most
unlucky as well as unseasonable accidents happened to
him." He died. Dodington attended the funeral in an
official capacity, on a very wet day in a very wet season,
the neglect of formality in the treatment of the mourners
being such that " there was not the attention to order the
Green-cloth to provide them a bit of bread ; and these gentle-
men, of the first rank and distinction, in discharge of their
last sad duty to a loved and loving master, were forced to



THE AGE OF ELEGANCE 197

bespeak a gi'oat cold dinner from a common tavern in the
neighboiuhood." It is a grievous picture.

" Here lies Fred,
Who was alive and is dead ; "

and round " the corpse and bowels " (I am not sufficiently
expert in the details of interment to say why Dodington
separates them thus) were gatliered all the wire-pullers, all
the flunke3's. all the place-hunters, with not a crumb to eat,
getting wet througii in tlieir fine raiment.

I wish the diarist had identified the tavern : it was
somewhere near Westminster Abbey and the House of
Lords ; and I ^^•ish it, not because I want to picture the
persons of quality in draggled finery sitting at mean tables
in a sanded parlour, but because the Board of Green Cloth
at the last moment, at throe o'clock, " vouchsafed to think
of a dinner, and ordered one — but the disgrace was complete,
the tavern dinner was paid for, and given to the poor." I
should like to hear the conversation of the poor on that
occasion : it would bo real history.

But though ho lost, for the time, that hope of elevation,
Dodington commanded votes. The borough of Weymouth
was in his pocket, and ho had much influence in all the
Dorset seats. He arranged, at the Antelope in Dor-
chester, with " Lord Milton, Messrs, Drax, Trenchard, and
most of the Whig party," for the election of Kniglits of the
iShire in 1753. "There could bo no doubt of the Whigs
carrying the election if they resolved upon it, because, to
my knowledge, two-thirds of the property of the county
were in their liands, and because I had carried it for Mr,
I'itt's father (who \\iin scarcely cjipabh^) when oiii' property
was considerai)ly less." He had j)l{ulgcd his interest to
Lord Digby against Mr. Pitt,

A little later, to secure the favour (►f tiie Duke of New-
castle, he was offering to pay (" and not bring him a bill ")
" those who would take money " at Bridgewater and Wey-
mouth : and he specially recommended " my two parsons "



198 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

of those places. The Duke " entered into it very cordially,
and assured me that they should have the first Crown livings
that should be vacant in their parts." Dodington held
Weymouth successfully for the Duke, but not Bridgewater.
The effort cost him £2500. A few months later he writes of
"the insufficiency, falseness, and meanness" of the Duke's
administration. He changed sides several times thereafter.
His intrigues bore the usual fruit. He got his peerage in
1761, and died childless the next year. His monstrous
house in Dorset, built by the ponderous Vanbrugh, and
decorated by Sir James Thornhill of Weymouth, was pulled
down in great part by his heir. It had " an enormous
portico of Doric columns ascended by a stately flight of
steps." It was "gilt and finished with a profusion of
finery, that kept no terms with simplicity, and not always
with elegance or harmony of style." Dodington was of
vulgar taste in such matters ; " his bulk and corpulency
gave full display to a vast expanse and profusion
of brocade and embroidery." He had " a passion for
magnificence and display." " Of pictures, he seemed to
take his estimate only by their cost." But " he made more
display at less cost than any man in the Kingdom." At
any rate, he did not waste his money on mere pictures. He
had none on his walls. Instead, " he had stuck up immense
patches of gilt leather shaped into bugle horns upon hang-
ings of rich crimson velvet, and round his state bed he dis-
played a carpeting of gold and silver embroidery, which too
glaringly betrayed its derivation from coat, waistcoat and
breeches by the testimony of pockets, button-holes and,
loops, with other equally incontrovertible witnesses, sub-
poena'd from the tailor's shopboard. When he paid his
court at St. James' to the present queen upon her nuptials,
he approached to kiss her hand in an embroidered suit of
silk with lilac waistcoat and breeches, the latter of which in
the act of kneeling forgot their duty, and broke loose from
their moorings in a very indecorous and uncourtly manner."
" Being a man of humble birth, he seemed to have an innate



THE AGE OF EI.EG ANTE 109

respect for titles, and none bo^^■ed w itli more devotion to the
robes and fasces of high rank and office."

The criticisms are by the irascible Sir Fretful Plagiary —
Richard Cuinbeiland. Even if they are (exaggerated, they
can hardly do much injustice to the autlior of that astonish-
ing Diary. But it must not be forgotten tiiat he was an
active and not wholly tasteless patron of literature, by no
moans negligible as a writer, widely read, versatile in manner
(now, according to Cumberland, " snoring in his lethargic
way," and at the next moment " setting the table in a roar "
by his wit), subtle but clear-headed.

An election account of 1784 may servo to show how a
politician of that centiu^y commanded success. IVIr. John
Bond and Mr. Henry Bankes were in that j'car elected
members for Corfe Castle (whose later loss of all Parlia-
mentary representation roused the anger of the gentry),
and returned, among other items, the following expenses : —

To 5 Half Hogsheads of Boor on the Election ^ '^- ^^•

Day

To the Poor

To 45 Voters at 13s. each .
Dinners on the Election Day
To Servants at the Ship

Musick

To Two persons to protect the Beer

The association of another historical figure with Dorset
is not quite so definite, though I believe it to bo certain.
Matthew Prior is said to have been born near AVimborne,
the 8on of a carpenter.* His own connection with the
county is slight. His uncle Arthur and his cousin Catherine
were brought into nearer and unhappy relation with it.
Arthur kept the Rummer tavern in London, a " great resort
of wits " : ho often visited Wimborno for a holiday. His
daughter was too attractive to be safe in London. So " to

• Tlio Mtory lluit he frll asl<-(<|) over a cliiiiiiod Ixjwk in \\'iiiil>orii(' MiuHtor
Librury, uikI li-t hiH cundlo bum a liul<< in th<- pagx (Htill oxhibitvU) had boun


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