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

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

. (page 23 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

title that I know for a really promising novel is The Man
with Three Thumbs : and that, unhappily, has been
wasted on a short story). The Bettiscombe Skull screams,
and disaster overtakes the family, if you try to remove it.
Quite jolly. Its history has been pursued by his Honour
Judge Udal, of Antigua and Dorset, who in his West Indian
dominion came by chance upon an estate known as Pinney's.
Happily, possessing local knowledge of a penetrating kind,
he hit on the solution of a mystery about which antiquarians
would ordinarily have had to fill volumes of magazines. Mr.
Udal traced the West Indian estate to a Pinney who was
condemned to death, reprieved, sentenced to transportation,
and apparently bought off, after Monmouth's rebellion. It
seems that this Azariah Pinney, nevertheless, went to the
West Indies : and his descendants returned in the eighteenth
century to the ancestral district, bringing with them a
negro servant, after the fashion of the times in which
Samuel Johnson would serve his cat Hodge with oysters
to prevent indignity to his black, Francis Barber. It is the
anonymous black's skull, preserved by some whim, which
screams.

P. can go all the way to Whitchurch Canonicorum from
Bettiscombe by what is called a road (and indeed — horresco



THE SEQl^ESTERED VALE 201

referent — I have been along it in a ear). There is also, if you
can hit it — I did it only by the graciousness of a country
woman who carried her baby a quarter of a mile and left
her hoase desolate to guide me — a path from below Duckpool
across country : a mighty pleasant and wot path. This deep
Vale country is no place for walkers, except in August
or a dry September : you get either interminable curly
lanes, or quaggy footpaths.

In due course P. arrives at \\'hitc'hurch of the Monks ;
an ugly village with a venerable chmch. Here lies St. Wite
or St. Candida, a saint of whom I have spoken : here are
Norman arches ; here are a Grail and something like the
Cretan labrys carved on stones embedded in the fine Per-
pendicular tower. This, like Powerstock and Bere Regis
and Piddletown churches, is a building where intention has
survived.

From Whitchurch a b^Toad takes P. to a little before
Ryall, where a maddening confusion of roads awaits him.
The only direction to give is that he should go almost due
east, along a contoui', so to speak — it Is fairly easily recognized
when he gets there ; it does not look promising, but it is
right. By doing so he misses returning into the depths of the
Vale, and also getting on to the main Bridport-Lyme road,
and also going into a blind alley. Har Down (unaccountably
called Sharedon and other vile names in eighteenth-century
road-books) should be left dead due south, after a slight
curve towards the south-oast.

This track crosses the River W'inniford, about which I
will say no more than that it makes the road wet for an
intolerable distance. Thereafter North Chideock is passed
unobserved, and another griH'ii tunnel is entered* Tliis
leads eventually to tlie fair village of Symondsbuiy, where
are an ancient manor, an ancient inn, and a thurch which,
until a year or two ago, would have been ancient if the

• S«"<) oiioiiuli (Jriliianws Mup. I will not guuruiitoo lluil iho liltlo
laiu>H will be roofixl over in uiiy oim your. Fiiriiu>rH, for obviuim rt^iwoiiH,
iuivo u luibit of ('li<ariii({ Iuik-m iukI ilil(-h<*M ami lioilg(<H and coiwi'H froii) tiiiio
tu tirrii).



292 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

eighteenth (or early nineteenth) century had tolerated such
a Gothic suivival.

The church is now being restored : I could almost wish
it were not, for later centuries will certainly like to possess
some monument of what 1818 thought of earlier ages, as
well as of what 1922 thought of 1818.

What 1818 thought of its ancestors, the church as it was
a few years ago showed. The period was still Augustan,
and the nation — so far as Symondsbury is concerned —
still knew its own mind. It may have been a narrow mind,
for all that it prided itself upon its broad-bottomed wisdom :
but it was a mind fully made-up and composed. When,
therefore, it judged the " Gothick " of Symondsbury church,
it found it bad : of course it may also have found it half-
ruined, and have very rightly determined to arrest the
decay ; but I doubt it.

The year 1818 covered the Gothic up : covered up the
inside utterly and entirely, save where the immense and
goodly Perpendicular shafts rose into the golden tower.
High pews, with elegant wooden candlesticks — still in use
before the new restoration — were so put in as to hide the
bases of those columns. Much of the waggon roof was
whitewashed and plastered. Two fine new galleries were
inserted, one in the north transept, one all across the west
end of the main aisle, cutting in half the light of an enormous
window. To give entrance to this western gallery — which
from the chancel steps, with a draped red window curtain
in the big window and a neat projecting bay in the middle of
the front row of seats, looked exactly like an enormous
four-post bed — two stone staircases were erected outside
the church. On the south a door was cut high up in the wall.
On the north a window was bisected, and a wooden door
substituted for half the Perpendicular arch. Another
outside staircase was made for the northern gallery.

Below the gallery, at the extreme back of the church,
were set unsmoothed, low, uncomfortable seats, doubtless
for the poor and for children, with a raised seat in the middle



THE SEQUESTERED VALE 203

for a beadle. Facing him stood that perfect emblem of
Augustan pomp, a wooden font of a simple pseudo-Roman
design, the wood painted to look like marble.

The gallery hi the north transept was adorned at one side
with a golden urn breathing stiff golden flowers. Over a
high, graceful pulpit sat a seemly golden dove. The tables
of the Law, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, were blazoned
on aggressively decent blue screens behind the holy table,
around which, north and south, as well as west, ran a firm
bahistraded altar rail, so that commimicants might draw
near in a gentle domesticity.

All the stonework of the interior, except the central
columns, \\as plastered over : and the plaster was given a
pattern of Ihies to bear the semblance of joined and mortared
stones. No transformation could have been more purposeful
and complete, no breach with, or disregard of, the past and
its continuity more determined.

A generation later two documents were added ; footnotes,
as it were, confirming the taste of the restorers. One is the
glass in the south transejit window — a representation of
the Evangelists which in design and colour can only be
described as amazing. I have never seen, and wish never to
see, anything like it. The other is an epitaph to a local
worthy. His executors set it up. They were quite sure of
his virtues. We might perhaps be surer of them to-day
if they were a little less strenuoasly proclaimed. The
panegyrists said that " he could not have been excelled
in firmness of attachment to the existing institutions
of his country both in Thurch and State." (Hero follows
a list of less exciting qualities.) " In his character were
united all the Christian (/races, with all the Sterling Virtues
of True Patriotism.'' Ho paid his labourers two shillings a
day in 1812.

From Symondsbury P. makes his way east by a pleasant
field-path cntt-ring the Bridport road just by the ironworks :
than which nothing less like an ironworks has ever existed ;
a graceful Georgian house with its {)\\\\ pond and garden



294 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

visible from the road, its own decent ironwork, of the two
patterns which adorn — adorn is the right word — half the
good houses for miles round : no factory chimney, no coal,
no dirt. . , . The eighteenth century here at least coped
well with one ugliness of the industrial era.

And thus we come into Bridport again by way of AUing-
ton, where an unrestored church of almost the Symondsbury
restoration period may be observed : formal, sedate, as
certain of its convictions as of the even growth of its yew
trees.

It is that certainty which contrasts so pitifully with the
dim fumblings of the labourers towards freedom. They
should have been content to make the earth beautiful and
fruitful by their toil ; leaving it to the church builders and
restorers to name their reward in this world — or the next.
They should have known their place. . . .



XIV

*' May oiu- Examples inflviencp All the rest of our Country to an imiUition
of the like Chariti/ ! TluU if it bo the Will of God, we nifty again
Enjoy the BlcssimjH of ]>eiice, and see our Jcruaahm once more
KstablLshed as a City that is at I'nily icitldn itself.

'* Now the Gotl of Patience and Consolation, grant you to be likrmindcd
One towards Another, according to Christ Jesus."

WILLIAM WAKE, afterwards Archbishop of Canter-
bury. A Sermon Prrmh'd at the Reviving of the
Dorsetshire Fecuit, 1G90.

" In the black niglit, along the mud-deep roads,

.Vinid the threatening boughs and ghostly streams,

Hark ! Sounds that gird tlie chirknesses like gojwis,
Miumurs and nunoui-s and reverlj<^rant dreams,

Trampling, breatlis, movements, and a little light

The Marching of the Army of the Night ! "

FRANCLS ADAMS,
Songs of the Army of the Night.



XIV



HOLY AND HUMBLE iMEN OF HEART




y Ko3 MamSlcd.

Ml" Mill
• Bl.ANDrowj5




SHAFTLSBURY




-L S-I.



DORSET, as a rule, has not boon backward in honour-
ing her prophets in their own hfetinio. Prido in
local custom and tradition seems there to bo both
natural and evenly diffused. In 1859 William Barnes, a
none too wealthy schoolmaster, was encouraged to give
readings of his " dialect " poems to those who used the
alleged dialect, in their very own towns and villages. It
might have been imagined that his best audience would bo
polito gentry and students of folk-lore (a word he himsf^lf
invcnto<l), and tliat his huml)Ier hearei"K would Mispect
they were ijeing e.xjiloited or turned into sentiment for
foreign consumj)tion. But in the romilt there wji« no high-
brow atmo>phere. The halls were packed with the people
describo<l in tln^ poems, and the audiences were, by every
account, enthusiastic.

Hardy haw lamented the .smothering of that good English

2U7



298 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

speech by the commonplace language of the State schools.
I certainly have met one striking instance of that crime.
I was being kindly shown over a certain fine place in the
county, outside the usual hours, by an under-bailiff : I
conjecture a peasant's son who had taken the advantage
of education. He spoke with the average middle-class
correctness and no local accent. He was a decent man, well
dressed in tweed, with a natural civility. We came into the
gardens of the house, and heard a thousand birds singing,
for it was spring. We both stopped to listen ; the sound was
an enchantment after the empty silences of the great mansion.
After a moment I said to him : " Have you ever heard that
little small song they whisper to one another in their nests
before dawn, before they get up ? " (It is the most excellent
noise the human ear can receive : a delicate intimacy of
tiny sound from the waking birds, the half-awake birds,
in their curiously wrought homes— more subtle and poignant
than all the beauty of their full voice. They utter it at no
other time.) " Yes," he answered, his face lighting up,
" I used to hear that at home : they had nests in our thatch."
Then his speech suddenly took on the beautiful vernacular
accent, which I cannot reproduce in print. He became the
peasant, the leal Dorset man, again. " But they don't
sing so finely as when they've washed and dressed theirsen,
and that's rathe (early) in mornen now. Ah, they was all
of a charm at break of day." Goncentus avium. . . . He
recollected himself and came back from the dawn to the
daylight rather guiltily : "I mean — they were singing
wonderfully."

But the local speech has not died out by any means, as
you can discover in any bar-parlour in a small village of
an evening. I once heard a perfect example of its strictly
correct use. I was in an inn near Badbury Rings, eating a
noble cheese for lunch (on its own runabout table of rough-
hewn wood), and drinking home-brewed cider, along with
five or six labourers. They were arguing down one of their
number, who seemed to be a sort of Joshua in his views



HOLY AND Hl'MBT.K MEN OF HEART 21)9

about the sun ; ho wanted it in one particular phice. Ho
said it rose there, pointing : he could see it out of such and
such wandows. The discassion was long and turly, but the
unanimous conclusion was simple : " You mod (might) zee
zun rise o'er Barbury, but not drough thic window." Apart
from pronunciation, the point is " thic." It docs not
mean " this," as novelists who deal in local colour are apt
to think. The men were talking of a number of windows —
" Thic " is a collective adjective, and means " of this kind "
— windows, magic casements, opening in one particular

direction. "Thic novelist" (like Mr. X ), "thic

stat<xsman " (like the Rt. Hon. Y ) — we want the word

back in English. Was fiir ein ? . . .

The decay of this fine vernacular, as I have said, is not yet
far advanced. Even the middle-classes in the little towns
often revert to it in intimate conversation. The beauty
of it, to me, is its clean simplicity : it is at once rich and plain.
In the mouth of a good tale-teller the Dorset intonation
makes it a perfect vehicle of direct romance. " And with
tha-a-at, he ups and he gies 'un a clout ower his head,
so " : that is how stories should be told, so that you go off,
as you listen, into a land where things may not always bo
what they seem, but where words mean what they mean,
and nothing else. It is a speech entirely English and
entirely intelligible. It is as easy and beautiful as Chaucer's.
Read Chaucer out loud with attention to the rhythm, and
you can bid the phihjlogers and glossarists go hang. Hear
the Dorset " dialect " spoken, and as soon as you have got
used to the inevitable change of tonic accent, it is clearer
and bettor and robuster English than even the Cockney
speaks.

Mr. Hardy need not despair of its survival. \\v himsolf
haH done enough to preserve its rhythm in Ixioks so long as
IxKjks are read. And fortunately lie hIno is not without
honour — honour outside reading circk^s and diamatic an<l
litorary societies and the more exalted Press. Tiiat very
under-bailifT, when I told liini I bad walked from Stin>ford



300 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

that day, said, " You know that's Mellstock in Mr. Hardy's
book ? " I said, " Yes. Do you know Under the Green-
wood Tree? "Yes," he answered, rather shyly; "I've
read all his books. I read all I can. I know some of
the people in Under the Greenwood Tree."" And again, near
Bere Regis. A boy in a cart gave me a lift (oh, legless
motorists, when did you ever offer that unasked ? Not once
within my knowledge) : his mother was with him. Presently
after other conversation, she said, " I suppose you've read
Mr. Hardy's Tess ? " " Yes," I answered, " it was at
Bere she sheltered, wasn't it ? " " Yes," she replied :
" we know a lot of people in that book."

But it was really with an honom' paid to a Dorset man
outside his county and outside his life that I meant to begin
this chapter on the Victorian aspect of the county. If I
deal with certain personalities rather more than with social
history at this point, it is because they are both a part and
a vehicle of that history. Alfred Stevens certainly was.

I was present at a curiously impressive ceremony at the
Tate Gallery in 1911. A number of elderly gentlemen in
red robes were gathered to meet the doyen of French
engravers, Legros, Sir William Richmond, the Keeper of the
National Gallery, and many distinguished men of art and
letters. They had all assembled to do honour to a
Blandford house-decorator's son, who fought with wild
beasts at the Office of Works, and was the greatest English
artist of his day, born at Blandford in 1817 ; and there
stood the Blandford Corporation waiting to hear their
dimly known fellow-citizen praised.

It was through the foresight and generosity of the vicar
of Blandford St. Mary's, Mr. Best, that Stevens first got
his chance. This wise man sent him at his own expense to
Italy to study, and there, probably, Stevens gained that
conception of the unity of all art which dominated his life.
He returned to Blandford in 1842, but not for long. He
became a master at the school which developed later into
the Royal College, and began forthwith to put into practice




I'OKTIJAIT OF A tl-l■;K(i^ .\1 A N

ItKI.IKVKIi Hi UK iiK III!'. V.KW TIIK HON. .s.VMI 1 I. M.hl
IJV Al.KllKH .SlKVKNS
JJi/ jjfrii'f<'iiiin itf Ijii Trii'^f" - ' nf lln- Tulr i!iillirtj



HOLY AND Iir^rBLE MF.X OF HEART 301

his yayiiig, " I know but one art." He designed stoves for
a Sheffield fiim, phites for Mmtons, fine houues for the
beaut if ul-and-good, Hons for the British Museum, and
finally the great Duke's monument for St. Paul's Cathedral,
mto which tlio Dean (Milman) was loth to allow oven a
sculptured lioi"se to enter.

Sir William Armstrong's cluirming monograph on Stevens
telb with much sympathy the story of his struggle witii
^Ir. A\Tton (the First Commissioner of Works), who was
capable of suggesting to an artist that if he did not complete
his tale of bricks as per esteemed order, someone else would
be set to round oflf the half-finished job. The essay brings
out also the quality in Stevens which to me seems the
essential part of liLs birthright — his extreme simplicity of
soul. He had always a sincere purpose clear in his own mind,
not necessarily believed in by others. And he saw antl
laboured for nothing else — except to be kind to puppies
and poor people : he liked to have a puppy in his pocket,
and was always being defrauded by beggars.

So likewise did William Barnes walk in simplicity througli
the wilderness of this world. Hardy, in a fine appreciation
published when Barnes died in 1880, writes of " an aged
clergyman, quaintly attired in caped cloak, knee-breeches,
and buckled shoes, with a leather satchel slung over his
shoulders, and a stout staff in his hand. He seemed usually
to prefer the middle of the street to the pavement, and to be
thinking of matters which had nothing to do with the scene
before him."

A statue of him in that cloak now stands outside the parish
church at Dorchester, by whose clock he was wont to set liLi
watch. His association with Dorset was chiefly with the
county town, except for his youth in Blackmore Vale,
H«- kept a riKMuorablo school at Dorcliester, and retired at
length to the vicarage of \\'interl)orno Came, three miles
Houth. I)(»rchehter to-day, indeed, in its external form, owes
nuK li to hini. Ifc was one of thr htth* band of its citizens
who prevented the railway c(»nipaiiie-i fr(»m destroying



302 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

Maumbury Rings and Poundbury Camp. His zeal for the
study of continuity with the past made him an original
member of the Dorset Field Club, whose local antiquarian
collections and investigations might be a model to all
English counties.

His very perfect genre poetry apart, he is well known,
perhaps even notorious, as an extreme enthusiast for Anglo-
Saxon, and as a widely read but possibly too dogmatic
philologist. He would have reduced the English speech of
to-day almost to something like a system of monosyllables,
by killing or banning Latinisms wherever a Saxon word
existed or could be exhumed (" folk-wain " for " omnibus,"
for instance — and perhaps archaism is better than corrupted
jargon in that case). What the reformed tongue should be
at its best may be learnt from a few sentences of his which
hold also his own ideal of life : "It often happens that so
many of the earlier years of the worker for the minds of men
are so ill paid that he dies almost breadless before he attains
to well-paid fame ; or else, as a homely saying speaks, he
cannot win bread till he has no teeth left to eat it. Yet it
may be true that a work of fine art for the mind of man
may not be always so truly rated by labour or transference
as work for bodily life-gear. A great man's work is that of
his own soul's thought, his own feeling, his own hand, his
own skill, and no other man can give its like."*

The local sentiment — or parade of it — which might make
unsympathetic persons suspect a fostered cult of Barnes
was in fact a very genuine thing. He was loved. " No one
was ever afraid of Mr. Barnes," said a child in his parish,
not contemptuously. Perhaps she had experience of that
cassock-coat pocket which besides prayer books or a
" pocket font or communion service " would also hold
dolls and sweets. After all, what is sentiment ? In the
bad sense, it is hypertrophy of the lacrymal ducts by means
of publicity campaigns which appeal to the most facile
emotions : as when you raise your hat at the word " Mother."

* Views on Labour and Qokl, 1 859.



HOLY AND HUMBLE MEN OF HEART 303

The answer to tliis is the ever -regret ted Pelissier. In the
good sense, it is an appeal to a simple and honourable
emotion — against reason, perhaps, but quite often on the
side of reason, for human beings are not all reasonable.
Barnes had the gift of that appeal, and he could clothe it in
the best of all coats of many colours — a rich living dialect.

Sentiment — I suppose Words wortli's " Poor Susan " is
as near the danger-lino of sentimentality as most poems.
Yet it happens to be true, and William Barnes proves it.
He won for himself, in his lifetime, a tribute of which few
\\Titers could not be envious, imgrudgingly. His daughter
records that one day in 18G9 he received a letter " written
in an uneducated round hand." The wTiter had had to
dust some books. " Amongst them was your Poems in the
Dorset Dialect. Sir, I shook hands with you in my heart,
and I laughed and cried by turns. . . . Sometime-i I sit
down in the gloom of an underground London kitchen and
shut ray eyes, and try to fancy I am on Beaminster Down,
where I have spent many a happy hour years ago. . . . May
God blesri you and all yoiu^s, is tho true wish of an Old
Domestic Servant, who loves the very name of Dorsetshire.'*

The mban temper of mind is apt to pride itself on its
sense of the spirit of place ; I have, no doubt, given numerous
examples of this form of self-conceit. What it too often
fails to understand is the real love of place which is the life
of the spirit, which has made it hi the past, which will keep
it alive when all the essayists of all the world are dead.
A little aside in the Dorchester labourers' evidence —
" They said wo were as brothers " : the bitter memories
of the uprooting of ^filton village : the Old Domestic
Servant's reverie of BeamirLster D<nvn — they are deejx^r
things than sentiment or intellectual ecstasy. How deep in
Dorset, it has taken Hardy to show us. It seems to mo that
in tho dim courage of the labourers, in the sirnj)Iicity of
Steverw and Barnes, in the austere lire and profoundly
human sense of tluj universo in Haidy, in tho acceptance
by the humble rif the uurU of fluir own great ones, there is



304 THE MARCHES OF WESSEX

something central and permanent ; some kinship of spirit,
linked, not distantly, to a fellowship with the very earth
itself, Dorset men love Dorset. Here is a little of the peace
I seek, a little continuity and permanence.

That spirit, I think, appears also in another well-known
Dorset man of the nineteenth century. There moved to
and fro about the county the handsome figure of General
Pitt-Rivers ; moved a little irritably, at times, perhaps,
for I am told he had the honoiu-able affliction of the gout.
T have already spoken of his wonderful excavations. He
made munificent gifts to collections elsewhere, but he
meant his work to carry its highest value locally. Accord-
ingly he built a well-planned museum at Farnham, near
the scene of his labours — ten miles from anywhere — and
put most of his local finds in it, with elaborate models of
the sites and cuttings and a collection of objects of peasant
life from other countries, for purposes of comparison. It
was a great idea, to let a few villages look on a pageant of
the life of man, and study it closely, and feel it part of them-
selves. Pitt-Rivers also built arbours in his grounds at
Larmer Tree, close by, and encouraged excursions, and had


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 23 25 26 27 28