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

The marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England online

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against the svnseless bigotry of the two Georges, or hintetl at the
abominable tj-ranny ami persecution exercised upon Catholic Ireland,
was bhunned as unfit for the relations of social life."


Preface to Collected Essays.



I CANNOT but continue the records of elegance immedi-
ately, before I descend to the seamen, and to the clod

upon whose rheumatic shoulders the superstructure
of fine living rested. In due course it pleased Almighty
God to call to the throne of Britain not the nugatory
Frederick, but his son, the homely sovereign often called
Farmer George. I cannot feel so certain as his subjects
were of Almighty (iod's affectionate admiration for George
III. liut at least he made the fortunes of Weymouth, whoso
inhabitants constantly invoked his Creator in his behalf,
not only by means of the terrific effigy still dominating the
niot^jr bases on the Parade, but by other and less solenui

Nothing, in the long and engaging history of monarchy,
haH surpassed in <leligh(fiii absurdity the welcomci given to
the good king at Weymouth in 17.s!>. He had just rccovncd

Q 226


from one of his more severe indispositions, and the sea air
and bathing of Weymouth were recommended, and were
indeed beneficial. Happily Fanny Bm:ney was with the
Com-t. She telh of the triumphal progress of the popular
sovereign through Hampshire and Wiltshire : the huge
crowds everywhere, the festooned arches, the green bowmen
who accompanied the royal carriage, the incessant strains
of " God Save the King." " The King's late dreadful
illness," Madame d'Arblay exclaims, " has rendered this
song quite melting to me." Dorchester surprised her by
" the amazing quantity of indigenous residers " who
crowded every window as they passed. The indigenous
residers were noticeably less numerous on a later occasion :
they were not wholly indigenous on this first visit.

But the surprise was the sea bathing at Weymouth, whose
passionate devotion to the national anthem knew no bounds.
Comment on Miss Burney's account would be impertinent.

" Not a child could we meet that had not a bandeau round
its head, cap, or hat, of ' God Save the King.' All the barge-
men wore it in cockades ; and even the bathing-women had it
in large coarse girdles round their waists. It is printed in
golden letters upon most of the bathing-machmes. . . .
Those bathers that belong to the royal dippers wear it in
bandeaus on their bonnets, to go into the sea ; and have
it again, in large letters, round their waists, to encounter
the waves. Flannel dresses, tucked up, and no shoes
nor stockings, with bandeaus and girdles, have a most
singular appearance ; and when I first surveyed these loyal
nymphs it was with some difficulty I kept my features in

" Nor is this all. Think but of the surprise of His Majesty
when, the first time of his bathing, he had no sooner popped
his royal head under the water than a band of music, con-
cealed in a neighbouring machine,* struck up ' God Save
great George om- King.' "

* " A machine follows the royal one into the sea, filled with fiddlers " —
Fanny Burney's Diary : the rest of the quotation is from a famoiis letter
to her father.


" The three prhicesses," Hutchhis tells us, " also
bathed frequently and were much delighted with these

In the course of this first visit to Dorset the royal party
were entertained at Lulworth Castle by the then head of
the Weld family : his elder brother, deceased, had been the
first husband of the lady who was at that time Mrs. Fitz-
herbert, and afterwards wife of George IV.

Sherborne, Milton, and Cerne were also visited, and tlien,
after about eleven weeks' stay, durmg which ^Ii". Pitt (" liLs
appearance is his least recommendation ; it is neither
noble nor expressive ") waited on the King, the royal
party went on through Bridport and Axminsterto Exeter.
"About the beginning of August," Hutchins says, "the
Duke of Gloucester made a short visit, which afforded
no inconsiderable addition to the liappiness of the

Gloucester Terrace and the other beautiful 0(H>rgian
houses on the parade sufficiently testify to one of the real
virtuas of that complacent age. Weymouth and its spacious
bay, still, in spite of piers and pierrots, a great stretch of
loveliness at all times and in all seasons, did benefit the good
King, who returned thither many times, to the sustained
joy of its citizens.

It is worth while to record, to sot against the gloom which
the contemporary history of the labouring classes inspires,
the ciieerful orgies at Dorchester at the time of one of these
later visits — in 1798. Sports were organized at Maiden
Castle ; and the ancient ramparts saw contests for the follow-
ing, among other, rewards : —

" To bo played for at cricket, a round of bot^-f ; each man
of the winning set to have a ribband. . . .

" A p(jund of tobacco to be grinned for.

" A handsome hat for the boy most expert in catciiing
a roll dijijK'd in treacle, and susp<'nded by a string. . . .

" ^'^ P'ij i prize to whoever catches him l»y tlic tail."


Another delight m the sovereign's honour was a monstrous
hollow pie filled with canaries : " When the pie was opened
the birds began to sing " — probably the National Anthem.

Weymouth certainly benefited by the royal favour,
apart from its immediate establishment as a watering-
place. It became customary, for instance, for the chief
actors of the day to appear there. Kean obtained his first
chance of popularity by a performance which caught the
chance eye of a "London Manager" more effectively than
the efforts of Mr. Crummies and his company at Portsmouth.
Grimaldi senior trod the Weymouth stage and wrote some
verses in its honour. Elliston was another passing visitor.
He had the joyous experience of dropping casually into the
theatre one day, and finding his sovereign fast asleep in the
royal box. George had been caught in a shower of rain and
had taken shelter there. Elliston did not like to wake him
crudely. He retired, and obtaining some musical instrument,
played " God Save the King." The King woke.

One of the more memorable desires expressed by King
George was to the effect that he wished every child in his
dominions to be taught to read the Bible. It was as a result
of a Dorset resident's efforts that he came to this decision.
The age extended its care to morals unceasingly, and the
West was a strong centre of morality. Hannah More was
not far away, engaged in her devastating controversy with
the incumbent of Blagdon. The celebrated Madras System,
over which Joseph Lancaster, Mrs. Trimmer, Sidney Smith,
and Andrew Bell generated so much heat, and out of which
arose the National Society for Promoting the Education of
the Children of the Poor in the Principles of the Established
Church (I love its almost unknown full title) and the British
and Foreign School Society — that celebrated system was
adopted at Dorchester in 1812, after a meeting of the Grand
Jury of the Countj'^ of Dorset assembled at the Lent Assizes,
and a subsequent meeting of the " Nobility, Gentry, Clergy,
and Inhabitants " (in due order). The inventor of the
System, the virtual founder of the National Society, Bell



O 5"



■.A\! § §

•^ ft


himself, the iiispirer of the monarch's hope, was recti)i- of
iSwanage from 1801 onwards.

It need hardly be said that the Committee formed in
1812 laboured to advance the then policy of the Society —
to educate the poor, but not to educate them too much, nor
60 as to render them discontented with their station ; and
to teach them useful arts, but not to withdraw them from
economic occupations. " No Girl," said the Dorset regula-
tions, " to be permitted to learn to write or cypher, till she
has completed her ninth year, nor then, unless she can read
the Bible fluently, repeat the Catechism, Prayers, etc.,
knit stockings, and do all sorts of common plain work. . . .
It has been found tliat in many of the smaller jiarishes,
it is not practicable to introduce Day Schools, as the children
from a very early age are called out to employment in
hasbandry, and other industrious pmsuits." I wonder what
Mr. H. A. L. Fisher considers " practicable " in popular
education to-day.

And I wonder also, for I fear after all it is now as impossible
to get into theirs as into the media?val mind, in spite of
still existing survivals — I wonder what the less advanced
clergy re<illy thought ; or for the matter of that what any
decent Tory thouglit. Read Moritz or Arthur Young about
the squalor of peasant life (still squalid) : read Fielding,
keep reading Fielding, who though he might choose to label
people All worthy and Square and Thwackum, was not
deluded by his own sentimentality as regards the real state
of the countryside. Tliey at least thought. But though they
knew better they did little. On the whole they accepted.
How much more easily would lesser men accept a millennium
to bo won by the least humiliating form of boot -licking — un-
questioning acquiescence in the policy of tiie good and great ?

I asked how the clergy accepted it : in mid-century
by marrying, almost at command, the lord of the manor's
housekeeper ; unless they happened to bo younger sons,
when the rich living was nursed and the rich bride provided
if she were available. There was a place between the grades


(Mr. Collins is a later product of the system) and there was
under AVesley and Simeon a place outside them. The real
indictment of the clergy, as of the better type of Tory
squire, is on the charge of blindness, not of lack of

But that mdictment comes from the post-Darwin era,
in which historical perspective is a schoolboy's common-
place. What decent gentry and parsons saw was that there
was a lot of discomfort, a good deal of give-and-take, a
certain habit of piggishness in the lower orders, a little
discontent among those who usually turned out to be bad
characters (bad — like Tom Jones, by what standard ?), and
a reasonable amount of care for them by those set, by God
and the British constitution, over them. From the evolu-
tionary point of view, this was not a bad stage in progressive
opinion to have reached.

(It is almost a piece of historical irony that Crabbe, the
creator of that antidote to rural sentiment, " The Village "
was a Dorset vicar m this reign — and an absentee. He held
the living of Evershot from 1783 to 1786, but never resided
there. For him the female amenities of Trowbridge.)

George's long reign was in many ways an age of personal
and even aggressive philanthropy. Perhaps the stoutest-
hearted of all its Dorset benefactors was a certain Benjamin
Jesty, of Worth Matravers. He is an ornament to the local
history of medicine — a history which includes not only the
odd characters already mentioned, but the great name of
Sydenham, and lesser lights like Case and Sagittary. Mr.
Jesty discovered, many years before Jenner, the art of
inoculating for small-pox ; and his epitaph records his
" fortitude." He made the first test of his discovery — on
his wife.

Amid all the absurdities, all the complacent and all the
really sincere effort, deeper fires were bm^ning. John
Wesley, grandson of the Charmouth parson, included the
county in some of his itineraries. He was at Corfe in


" When we came to Corfo Castle, the evening being
quite cahn and mild, I preached in a meadow near the town,
to a deeply attentive congregation gathered from all parts
of the island. I afterwards met the society, artless and
teachable, and full of good desires. But few of them yet
have got any farther than to ' see men as trees walking.' "

Two days later he visited the ruins of Corfe Castle, which
impressed him greatly : especially one small detail. " Some
time since the proprietor fitted up some rooms on the south-
west side, and laid out a little garden, commanding a large
prospect, pleasant beyond description. For a while he was
greatly deligiited with it ; but the eye was not satisfied
with seeing. It grew familiar, it pleased no more, and is now
all run to ruin. No wonder ; what can delight always but
the knowledge and love of God ? "

He went on to Langton Matravers, but " did not find
any among them " (" a large and deeply serious congrega-
tion ") " who knew in whom they believed." And to
Swanage, where three or fom- persons (" and all of one
family ") " seemed really to enjoy the faith of the gospel.
Few others . . . appeared to be convinced of sin. I fear
the preachers have been more studious to please than to
awaken, or there would have been a deeper work."

Perhaps the best summary of the epoch's self-satisfaction
is in an ejMtapli c»f a slightly earlier period — that on the
monument in Sherborne Abbey to the fourtii Lord Digby,
who died in 1090. It records his dignities — " titles to which
the merits of his grandfather first gave lustre, and which
he himself laid (hjwn unsullyd. He was naturally enclined
to avoid the hurry of a publick Life, yet careful to keep up
the port of his Quality, was willing to be at ease but scorned
obscurity ; anfl therefore never made his Refinement a
pretence to draw himself within a narrower compass, or to
shun such oxperu-;c as Charity, Htjspitality and his Honour
callcfl ffjr. His Religion was that \Nhi(h by Law is
established, and the Conduct of his Life showed the power of
it in hi.- Heart. His tlistincti(»n from others never made him


forget himself or them. He was kind and obliging to his
neighbours, generous and condescending to his inferiors,
and just to all Mankind. Nor had the temptations of honour
and pleasure in this world strength enough to withdraw
his Eyes from that great Object of his hope, which we
reasonably assure ourselves he now enjoys."

The walk which will cover this admirable epoch of our
history is a very short one. It begins at the very bottom
of the cup in which Lyme Regis lies — near the River
Buddie, just where, within my own memory, Mary Anning's
gabled house blocked what is still about the narrowest and
most dangerous corner on any main road in Britain. Go
through the posts towards the glimpse of sea, and behold
all the sea anyone needs : all the sea from Start Port to
Portland Bill, and the cliffs thereof. There is a cm-ved
walk right round the " front " (by the way, who invented
the words Esplanade and Parade ? But Lyme is not so
sordid as to need them). You will find a raised wall and
promenade past some of the smallest and most decent
houses in the world. Here, in Jane Austen's words, several
past occupants have " thrown out a bow " : curved bows
of the proper Bertram type, facing a sea which must often
threaten them : graceful absurdities whispering the en-
chantments of a lost domesticity.

You will reach eventually a bathing beach. For those
used to more robust efforts, the bathing at Lyme is about the
worst known : equalled in my experience only by that at
Swanage and Studland in Dorset, and at places like Little-
hampton in Sussex. It seems that you could almost walk to
France with no water higher than your knees, if it were not
(at Lyme) for the silly sharp rocks (laminated, not rugose),
which try to prevent your having any legs at all below the
knees. (It is only fair to say that the Cobb provides aquatics
of quite a different sort.)

You will also come along the marine walk to strange
concrete erections, monuments of the Eternal Mind of Man.
The earth has here a tendency to slide into the sea, and so


its parasites desired to keep it above water. Reditscovering
Rome's craft of concrete building, the}' fortified the sloping
cliff with arches. It would seem that they originally in-
tended some civic adornment of Lyme, for the arches
resemble the beginning of those ignoble arcades, pleasaunces,
promenades — I know not what to call them — which defile
every few miles of the coast of Sussex : the beginnings,
in fact, of a Front or even a Winter Garden. But they are
fortunately rudiments only, and you may pass them in
moral and physical safety — moral, because there is no band-
stand ; physical, because, through their presence, you need
not beware the awful avalanche.

I cannot avoid that last quotation. All the mellowness
of Longfellow must descend upon one at Lyme. A few
score yards past the ferro-concrete you come to the very
house where Jane Austen lodged. 80 suitable a house :
smiling silenth', like La Gioconda, with no change of expres-
sion in any weather, upon the ancient Cobb and the delicious
promenade and the huge cliffs alike. " Golden Cap : yes,
a very striking eminence. Gun Cliff— the Assembly Rooms
are there, are they not ? The Cobb — a very fine undertaking,
but a little boisterous and rude for elegant females." Never-
theless, the eternal fires are there, behind the bow-windows
and the twinkling lights, and lovers looked out then as now
over the far -stretched cliffs. This demure little walk was the
only thing upon which Jane Austen let herself go, the only
j)lacc she ever described with enthusiasm.

Tennyson, according to a famous anecdote, arrived at
Lyme over the hills from Bridport on a visit to llu- discreet
Palgravo, and demanded at once to bo taken to the s])()t
wIktc Louisa >rusgrove " fell to the ])avement and was taken
up lifeless." It was the right spirit. Controversy has raged
upon the point of where Louisa lapsed. My own ojjinion is
that " Granny's Teeth " are too tcrril)le for an elegant
young lady of the time, but that any other set of steps will
do for her arch jHoceedings. At any rate the Cobb is as
beautiful now as then. It is the only pier of its length


I know in England which remains unspoilt by trains, docks,
entertainments, automatic machines, turnstiles or officials.

You can see something like what the old prints of the Cobb
depict, in the curving breakwater where the few steamers
touch. On the seav/ard side are the big more roughly shaped
stones of the Elizabethan or even earlier breakwater. I can
conceive no more contented isolation than to sit idly upon
the wall of this pier, looking at empty space, or the antics
of modern life, or the gracefulness of modern Lyme, or the
bracken and blackberries on the happy hills.

Now go up the hill past the few needful offices and some
not good later buildings, to the main street of Lyme. By
this road you come upon it at its most lovely stage — where
the roads fork for Axmouth and Uplyme. The street that
drops away at your feet eastwards — " almost hurrying into
the sea," as Miss Austen wrote — is to me far more beautiful
than those of Clovelly or Robin Hood's Bay or Whitby.
It is the most complete late eighteenth-century street in
England, in spite of one or two vile molestations. And
through and beyond the gracious houses you look over the
incomparable bay : Stonebarrow Hill, Golden Cap, Thorn-
combe Beacon, even the little sheer cliffs by Burton, right
across the curve of foam to Portland.

Close to you, as you enter by this road, is an elaborate
modern chapel set up by a local rich. Avoid it, and also the
public gardens, except as a short cut. Look rather inwards
at the serene building nearly opposite, with conventional
flower -pots crowning its decent fa9ade : even though the
excisions made by commerce hurt the proportions, it is
still desirable. And then there is the smithy and its old
cottage, and then the Retreat. Mary Russell Mitford once
lived at the Retreat, a wholly delightful house whose late
tenant was an impressive survival of the dignity of a little
town's life. In the sloping garden beyond the well-pro-
portioned rooms — rooms that Fanny and Edward Bertram
could well have made their home, with never the need to
achieve a single improvement — you will find the very stone


arbom* and the nut trees and the river by whose side
Miss Mitford maintained that hisatiable father of hers.

The house stands on the site of the stables of the Great
House, to which the first WilHam Pitt (Chatham) was a
frequent visitor. The chemist's shop next door represents
the Great House. Opposite is a place of business to which
I am fain to pay tribute, for it belongs to one of the last of
the provincial book-celling houses to do what all local
publishers should do — produce their local histories. The
firm of Dunster gave to the historians of England the works
of Roberts of Lyme Regis : the man who made Macaulay's
chapter on Monmouth's rising possible, and who chronicled
his native town and the social life of the south-west with the
widest knowledge and accurac}-. He was mayor of Lyme in
1848. The same firm, still, I am glad to say, aware of a
traditional pride in bookselling, tried, within my own
generation, to produce a local literary magazine of high
standing. They obtained, among others, Palgrave as a
contributor : but Lyme did not live up to the ideal, and
The Grove died in 1892.

A little lower down, un the same side, was born Francis
Bickley, the author of an admirable book on Where Dorset
meets Devon , and of a sound Life of Prior, and of much good
criticism in the contemporary Press.

The street is marred by certain new buildings which
affront the eye just below this stage. But within a few
yards it regaiiLs its sedate beauty, and nothing could be
better than the confrontation of the two chief hotels, the
Royal Lion and the Three Cups. The Cwps is the older
house, and seems to go back to at least Stuart times in
name and site. But they are both models of what a country
inn of the better sort should appear to be.

And that brings me to an oxporienco which makes one
think about the practical details of civilization in a world
to which I hope we may one day leturn : a world in which
the simjjjor conveniences of life can be jjrocurecl by travellers
upon reasonable terms.


I went for lunch to the Royal Lion* one Sunday
nearly a quarter of a century ago, with four or five friends,
on a Sunday in spring ; we had walked, like Tennyson, over
the cliffs from Bridport, and were hungry and a little tired.
We found an excellent coffee room ; and for 2s. 6d. each we
ate (i) dressed crab, lots and lots of it ; (ii) Easter lamb, the
real Dorset lamb ; (iii) a fruit tart of surpassing excellence ;
(iv) Blue Vinney in good condition and in its proper state —
a whole cheese. Cider was not absent. We were waited
on by a civil maid. After what I can only call a heavy lunch,
we were not disposed to set forth at once on our walk back
to Bridport (by road, not over the mountains). So we went
to what was then a cosy panelled bar -parlour, across the
hall-entrance, and found the comfortable landlord, and had
some excellent liqueur brandy. We talked to our host freely
of our adventures on the hills. Presently he said, " Well,
gentlemen, it's closing time now, and I'm going to have a
nap. I daresay you're not wanting to start back yet. Of
com^se this is Sunday. But the billiard-room is at the back
of the house " — it was in the present dining-room — " and
if you like to go up there and rest and have a game, well,
I've got no objection and no one'll know. And now I hope
you'll have another little drop with me."

His advice was followed in all respects. We stayed and
had tea and walked back in the twilight, feeling that the
world was a good friendly place, and swearing by the old
dark hotel, with its rambling staircases, its fine collection
of old sporting prints, its noble food, its wholly adequate

I still swore by it a few years later when I did the same
walk with a friend who unhappily lives only on grass and
herbs, which for the moment I had forgotten when I told
him of the good inn. Still, I promised him cheese and fruit
and salad, having faith. We got there on a hot day in a

* Nothing I say here bears upon the present management or facilities.
The house has changed hands more than once since what I describe.
In one or two casual visits recently (1921) I found the accommodation
excellent, and the pretences to which I take exception do not exist.


temper demanding a soothing reception. The first thing I
noticed was that the bar-parlom- was gone. It was now an

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Online LibraryF. J. Harvey (Frederick Joseph Harvey) DartonThe marches of Wessex, a chronicle of England → online text (page 18 of 28)