Henry John Whitfeld.

Rambles in Devonshire, with tales and poetry online

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-autl^or of " ScillB atiti its ^ cgcntJs."

*' J^ox 1)111, nor firoofi, toe pace along,
"iiut Ijas its Ugcnti, or its song."






If, my dear Sarah, this little worh possesses any merit,
it Gives the greater part of that merit to you, and you must
therefore accept the dedication of it, as a mere act of justice.
Perhaps, in the words of Statins to his ivife Claxidia, I may
find a dearer motive for coupling your name with a Bool,
during the composition of ivhich your care and affection have
given me so many causes for gratitude.

" Forsitan, exhausti Lachesis mihi temporafati,
Te tantum miserata, dedif^

Your affectionate Husband,
H. J. W.

Cjin^ittr fmi


WslJ^ F all natural boundaries, the most beautiful
is that formed by a noble river. It was,
indeed, the origin of the word " rival," from
the disputes to Avhich its Avanderings to and
fro gave rise, yet there is no resisting its appeal
to the eye. It lends to the imagination another
element, another sense, without the addition of which
the interest felt in any scenery is incomplete. A stream,
like the Dart, is a fair object, of which any place might be
proud. But it is fairer still, when its course is through a
romantic country, full of historic associations, always lovely,
and sometimes bordering on the sublime.

The parish of Stoke Gabriel, where I write, extends ir-
regularly, for nearly three miles, along the verge of the
Dart. It could not have a more delightful barrier, as it
seems to think, for its belt of woods comes down to the


margin of the water droopingly, forming a peaceful solitude.
The groves along its borders arc full of paths, liiit they are
hidden ; and the absence of an apparent thoroughfare makes
tlie retirement of its banks more solemn, and more sacred.
The river does not flow along the' parish in an vuibroken
line. It trends round a green slope, ou which is seen IMr.
Ilulme's pretty seat " Maisonette." Then an indentation is
formed by a wide estuary, across which there is a stone
mill-dam ; and so the village, or, as it would be called in
Cornwall, the " church town," of Stoke, is divided from
Sandridge, and from the hamlet of Waddeton,

The place itself has nothing in it remarkable, Avith one
exception, which, however, is an object deserving almost a
pilgrimage of its own. In the church-j'ard is a yew-tree, of
such magnificent proportions, as to have, I believe, one rival
only, of its age and size, in England. It overshadovrs the
Church, which possesses but the remains of a light rood-
screen, and an ancient perpendicular windoAv in the tower,
to tell us what it was of old.* But the great tree beside it
is of an architecture that knows neither degradation nor
change. Much to the credit of the parish, it is protected
with the most scrvipulous care, a wall being erected round
it, and props placed under all its limbs. Bampfylde Moore
Carew is said to have begged, or held forth, beneath it, but
this incident is comparatively modern. Wlien we look at it,
how the Past rises before us ! \^Tiat a history, what a tale

* I am happy to say that there is a prospect of its partial restora-
tion. Towards renewing the roof, and substituting open seats for the
wretched deal boxes, called pews, Mr. Ilulme, of Maisonette, offered
the munificent sum of £50 ; and I have no doubt that his Christian
generosity will call forth corresponding spirit in the other parishioners.


of romance, might not that patriarch tell, could only its
foliage, like that of the oak at Dodona, find a tongue ! In
the corner of the burial-ground lies an antique arch, pros-
trate, and overgrown with moss. Ask whose hand it was
that shaped and fashioned it. In another corner stood once,
it is said, a religious house. Who built it, and who flung
it down ? How much should we learn, could we but give
speech and language to that august and silent witness of
other days !


Fairy spells, that memory weaves,

Shades with outlines dim.
Linger in thy whispering leaves,

Moan in every limb.
Aged Yew, for many a day j|

Wherefore dost thou murmur so ?
And the aged Yew replieth,

Well-a-day, Avell-a-day,
'Tis the ghost of Time that sigheth ;
Life and death 'tis mine to show,
Life above, and death below.

Thou hast seen the Druids' reign,

Thou hast seen the grey Culdee,
And the Raven of the Dane,

And the Cross of Calvary.


Thou hast seen tliem pass awaj,
Like the Dart's eternal flow ;

Overhead the birds are singing,
"VVell-a-day, Avell-a-day,

Underneath the weeds are springing,

While the graves of nations grow,

Life above, and death below.

Thou hast seen the Saxon slave,

Seen the Church flung madly down,
Seen the Norman's bloody glaive,

And the Martyr's fiery crown ;
And we come to kneel and pray,

As in ages, long ago,
"VYhile the sky was smiUng o'er thee,

"\Yell-a-day, well-a-day.
Others knelt and prayed before thee ;
They are gone, where all must go.
Life above, and death below.

A melancholy history is attached to the ancient arch,
mentioned above, which is said to have led doAvn to the
Vicarage house. There is a tradition that a former Vicar
was found hanging upon it. From a short Latin biography
of him, in the parish register, the poor man's name was
Goetz, Latinised, after the fashion of the day, into Getsius.
Originally a Protestant emigrant from the Palatinate, he
held this living for forty years, and appears to have lost his
wife about twelve months before his unhappy end.



The most striking part of the parish is that comprising
Sandriclge, and the adjacent hamlet of Waddeton. It fringes
the Dai't with a succession of wooded slopes, having, here
and there, a boat-house, or a workman's hut, lying em-
bosomed in them, on the water's edge. There is a heronry
at Sharpham, on the other side of the river, and the birds
are seen floating lazily about, or Avatching the shallows for
fish. Sandridge, the property of Lord Cranstoun, is an
Italian villa of great beauty. It has been built, with much
taste and judgment, on the brow of a long gentle upland,
from which it has a double view of the Dart, through vistas
of patriarchal trees, now swelling boldly, and then, with a
deep glade, sinking down, and appearing to mingle with the
stream. The walks in the grounds are Avell worth a visit,
and, especially, when the evergreens, those weeds of Devon-
shire, are so fine, as to remind us of what Milman called
" the dim twilight of the laurel grove,"

where Delos looks coyly down uj)on the blue ^gean.

Waddeton Court, the handsome seat of Mr. Studdy, is a
modern Elizabethan mansion, exceedingly well placed, like
Sandridge, on the crest of a fine rising ground. It com-
mands a noble view of Dittishani Pool, and of the Beacon
Hill beyond. Below it is a deep gorge, buried in the shadow
of its aged woods, and stretching away to the water-side.
Nothing more noisy than the call of a pheasant, or a rustle
of sylvan life, is heard among the ancestral trees. Come a
step or two beyond their precincts, and all is labour, and
traffic, while a little steamer glances past, and boats go by,
and, from time to time, a larger vessel comes slowly on, the
water rippling and sparkling from her bows.


The real beauty of a prospect depends on its accessories.
If yon arc alone, yon are a mere animal unit in a material
desert, a Avaudei'cr in an Australian forest, with its canojiy
of thin flickering leaves. You want a Past, to connect you
with your human ancestrj- ; and a Future, like a track of
glory from the sun, leading you up to God. If you would
have the full dignity of manhood, you cannot isolate yourself
from the great heart of your mortal nature. In the most
exquisite scene, you want some human sympathy, some
connexion with older days, and with other men, to teach
you that you are not alone Such a remembrance is not
wanting here. It is one, full of stern romance, harmonizing
with the locality, and with the gazer's thoughts. Before
you, on that headland, is Greenaway, once the dwelling of
Sir Walter Raleigh. His history conjures up a world of
spirits, passing with a slow and stately march. The Gold-
land sends tliere its plumed Incas, and they turn on you a
glance, sad and reproachful as their history. Shadowy
figures, like those of Drake, and Frobisher, and Gilbert,
move along in a dim procession, — those true old sea-kings,
whose very names struck terror into the heart of Spain.
What a melancholy panorama it is, and how varied ! Yet
it is but the life of that noble gentleman, sitting tranquilly
in the casement yonder, from the hour when he threw down
his cloak before the feet of Elizabeth, to the last scene on
Tower-hill, closed by the gloomy Gondomar, stiiF in his
S2)anish ruff, as I saw him in his j^ortrait at Stowe.

But thoughts like these are not for Devonshire, nor for
the sunny Dart, nor for its green lanes. They Avind over
this parish, as they do everywhere, like a network of


emeralds, Avliile the trees above form a natural arch, and
the banks are bright with spring and summer flowers, and
in autumn the tall fern waves its Oriental leaves, like the
banner of the departing year. The Spaniards have a
proverb relating to this subject : — ■

" There is danger in green leaves, and a beautiful face."

Now this saying is not applicable to its birth-place, Avhicli
is a land of broad vast soUtudes, of fantastic mountain
chains, crowned, ever and anon, with old Moorish towers,
looking, in spectral piide, over a realm which is their's no
more. It has the deep barranco, the Sierra, mantling with
its groves of cork and chesnut, the great Castilian table-land,
the bluffs of Biscay, the royal oak of Guernica. The pilgrim
sees a burgh on the hill-top, and recognises Saguntum. He
crosses the Ebro in its swing boat, and straightway there
arises before his mind's eye the march of the Carthaginian
arm}^, beginning at Carthago Nova, to end at Cannaj; its
eighty elephants pacing royally along ; its white-robed
infantry ; its swarthy Numidian horse ; and, at the head of
all, he Avhom Wellington pronounced the greatest Captain
of all ages, the young Hannibal. But these immortal
memories do not harmonize with the spirit of that saying.
The palmy South, indeed, might claim them, but even the
South is wanting in one element of romance, for it lacks
strength and manliness. All the bright-eyed creepers, all
the ivy wreaths in the world, are nothing, without the oak
for their embrace. " The inen of Valencia," says an antique
Castilian saw, " are Avomen, the women are animals, the
animals are grass, the grass is water, and the water nothing."

But the West of England, liowcver Ixviutiful, is not
effeminate, nor is there an enervating atmosphere in the
solitudes, -where you may wander for hours alone. Nor is
grandeur lacking to the bright Dart, as it rushes forth from
the tors of the moor, and flows, amid fairy combes and deep
valleys, to the sea. The proverb might have been written
for this country, by a Poet Avho felt its witcheries. It is a
Devonshire lane, embodied, or rather amplified, in Avords.

And when twilight, with its shadows, comes down

More tender, and more faint,
Soft as a glory on the brow
Of an expiring Saint ;

and makes the woodland holier and more solemn, and tinges
with a yellow lustre the bosom of the stream, it fills the
mind with images of poetry. We have been lingering all
day on the banks of the river, and they deserve at least a
farewell in sons.


BeautiM river, Iioav calm is tliy way,
Lingering fondly, ere winding away;
Winding away to the Ocean, wliose sigli
Comes, in low mtuniiurs, imploringly by.
Fairy-like river, how long is thy way,
Timidly coying in haven and bay;
]\Iusical wanderer, haste to depart.
Child of the wilderness, beautifol Dart,

Bold is the rush of the kingly Rhine,
Bright is his coronet, bright is his wine.
Soft, in the shade of his mountain zone,
Laughs the blue glance of the bounding Rhone.
Proudly the yellow-haired Tiber may flow.
Singing his dirge to the dead below.
Which of the river gods, which may it be.
Beautiful Dart, to be mated with thee ?

Thou hast no chaplet of vine-clad bowers,
Thou hast no circlet of feudal towers,
Tliou hast no gUtter of charging ranks.
Fleets on thy bosom, and blood on thy banks ;


Hark ! along yon eliin dale
Floats a sweet and solemn wail.
By the Oread's leafy pall,
By the silver waterfall.
Straying o'er the haunted hUl,
Singing in the busy mill,
Comes a long and loving sigh,
Comes a plaintive murmur by;
Is it Echo, or a Fay
Melting into song away ?

Echo ! Echo !
Is it from thy mystic shrine.
Is the voice of music thine ?

Hark, again I hear its cry,
Trembling, witching, lingering, by.
Mingled with the di'eams that stir
In the branches of the fir,
By the brake's enamelled side
Mingled with the moaning tide.
Wlaispering ever, low, but clear,
" Wilt thou seek me, I am here !
Here, with many a tender spell,
I, the lone enchantress, dwell."
Echo ! Echo !

S 12


Shrink Avithin tliy magic mine,
'Tis a SAveeter cliann than thine.

Hark, it calls thee ! " Wilt thou hear

Strains that fit a Seraph's ear,

Wilt thou see a halo, fair

As a Martyi''s brow may wear ?

Fairy wings are gleaming bright,

Fairy harps are hymning light,

Fairy forms are glancing free,

'Mid aerial minstrelsy;

Here are Fancy's thoiisand wiles.

Here are Love's responsive smiles.

Echo ! Echo !
Hermit of the rifted pine.
Dull thy shade of sound to mine."

" Wilt thou seek me ? I am nigh,
Pleading to the Pilgrim's eye.
Felt in Beauty's power to bless,
Seen in Nature's loveliness.
I can fill the dreamy shade,
I can light the glowing glade,
I can bid the fair and good
Share my peopled solitude,
When the film of earth departs.
Thrilling in then* heart of hearts.

Echo ! Echo !
Wandering sprite, thy claims resign.
Lonely wanderer, yield to mine ! "

Cjiajittr Itrnnii,

Y Lord," said an unhappy Jiir}anan, cm-
pannelled against his will, and at his wit's
end for an excuse, " I can't afford to keej^ an
apprentice." " Then, Sir," was my Lord's
reply, " then. Sir, jow oiight to be able to
aiford it." And the master of twenty
legions had, of course, his logical and un-
disputed way. Li like fashion, Ave might
say to the winding valley leading from Portbridge to Stoke
Gabriel, if there are no pixies here, nor elves, there certainly
ought to be. It is so beautiful ! especially as I saw it in
early spring, one bright March day, full of primroses and
violets, with a green iindergrowth of orchis and blue bell,
peeping out at you softly, and nestling in the sun. If no
fairies hold their revels upon its tapestry of moss, and under
its restless canopy of leaves, they have lost their taste for
sylvan witcheries. They have given place to the vulgar
ivishnesses* which are as gross and as common-place, as the
minds that indulge in them.


In a country aboiuiding in natural charms, we always look
for some local matters of interest, some legendary records of
those who, like oru'selves, felt the spirit of the place. The
most perfect combination of Nature's works is, without this,
like a body without a sovil. Thank Heaven we are not all,
nor usually, like the Yankee who, at the first sight of Niagara,
only cried out, " what an everlasting water-power for mills."
The most prosaic of us has in the midst of such scenes as
these a want within him, often an unexplained yearning, for
something to fill up the visible framework, to bring in the
Past, with its dim religious spells, and to connect us Avith
our kinsmen of other days, by the still small voice of

Yet, fair as it is, this quiet nook of Devonshire is not rich
in relics of old Time. The few lying around you here are
neither in themselves stirring, nor of particular interest. A
branch of the great house of Pomeroy once lived there, on
the hill opposite, where now stands Lord Cranstoim's pretty
Italian villa. It is said that a Benedictine Monastery
flourished near the present Church, the name of part of
its farm buUdings being preserved in the corrupted word
*' Barnies," given to a modern house. Descending to later
times, there is certainly a tradition linked Avith this sweet
hollow, but it is one neither romantic, nor recalled with
pleasure. Along that road, and wp the winding ascent, and
doA\'n the stecj) lane beyond, still called Parliament lane, from
his first coiincil having been held in yonder old farm house,
rode, after his landing at Brixham, William of Orange.
Behind him followed Ginkle, and Bentinck, and Schomberg,
and the swarm of Dutch locusts, and Enghsh rebels. We

may, if we list, see the rearguard croA\aiing yon crest, and
passing slowly away, a trumpet-call only floating back upon
tlie air, as it still stirred some loiterer's plume.

Upon such a memorial as this it is not pleasant to dwell.
But when you reach the main road, and stand on Portbridge,
you find something that tells you of a different, and a prouder,
fellowship. Upon the hill on your left hand, looking towards
Waddeton, is a small Roman camp. In general, there is
little, connected with our recollections of those masters of
the Avorld, but violence, and rapine. There was, to be sure,
grandeur in their deeds of wi'ong. They swayed and smote
in an Imperial fashion, allowing no meaner tyranny, and
when they departed, leaving the impress of a giant's traces
on their abandoned works, like the awful sign of a bloody
hand,* stamped upon the silent walls of the ruined cities of

Yet, here, the rule is not quite applicable. I heard the
other day a tale of superstition inherited by that deserted
station, the disjointed links of which I have endeavoured to
unite. The fathers of this hamlet were the principal actors
in it, so it is not out of place, nor unwelcome, here. I will
call it —

®J)e ffif)urci) of Stofee St. ffiabriel, anH f)otD it iaas founticU.

* In one of the illustrations to Fortune's last work on China, this
same mysterious type or token is seen, graven upon a rock, by the side
of a stream.




EFORE Wyclyf was, and before
Rainold Peacock was, and before the
blessed truths of the Reformation had
ilhimmated the darkness of our land, there stood,
in the corner of the present churchyard at Stoke
Gabriel, a little chantry or chapel. It was suc-
ceeded by a stately chiirch. How this befel, and
after what a strange fashion, I will endeavour to

It was long before the wars of the Roses that
these scenes occurred. Courtenaye of Powderham
then claimed cousinship and kin with every Royal
house in Europe, as the descendant of that Coiu'tenaye, who
refused to marry his daughter and heiress to a " Child of
France," unless the princely wooer assumed the name and
arms of his bride. Pomerei of Berry, Baron of Totnes, Avas
then the lord of fifty-eight fiefs. These days, and the events
acted in them, were old and traditional, when the Burghers
of Totnes covenanted to keep a barge, with six servitors,
properly apparelled, to be ever in readiness to convey the
Lord of Dartington across the sheet of water, granted to

tliem by him, and tlien bounding tlie base of the hill, on
wliich the Town stood. It was long before tlie wars of the
Roses, as I have just said, that these events took place. The
land of Norman and of Saxon was yet hardly England,
though the fusion of races had perceptibly coiiimenced.
Many a Thane and Franklin resided on his father's heritage,
and dwelt in the low rude halls of one story, Avhich they still
affected, in sullen contrast to the fortified houses and castles
of the intrusive conquerors.

Another element, too, was not yet entirely extinct in this
state of transition and of change. Although the Romans
had long disappeared from Britain, traces of their mighty
hand everywhere remained. The memorials of their de-
parted Empire siu'vived even its name. Throughout the
length and breadth of the land, the antique spirit of Latian
greatness might, here and there, be still deemed to live, and
be evoked from its ashes. The eye recognized it in the
pillars of a decayed temple, or in a fortress, or in an altar,
raised by some legion to a favourite officer, or in some lonely
Avail, or in a few scattered houses, partly destroyed for the
sake of the materials, and partly spared, because the excel-
lence of the bituminous cement was such, that the work of
demolition became unprofitable and costly. Pevensey was
called Norman, but was actually Roman. Rutupium was
named Richborough, and Regulbium was turned into Recul-
vers, and Portus Lemanis became Lynme ; but the buildings
themselves were imaltered, from the day Avhen the Roman
Ai-chitect completed them, and the Augur blessed them, and
the Eagle spread over them his haughty wings. So also, in
many retired spots, /^a^/ and villa; Avere softened into pays

and ville, luit the ancient Roman fabrics still stood, like
iisurpers in a subject land, marking the site of some former
statio or castrvim, and recalling, even in the corruption of
theii' names, a stem remembrance of those whose Empire
was once the world. While, however, the Patriarchal relic
tlius lingered on, there generally arose, by its side, in some
position less suited for military occupation than that selected
by the warlike colonists of Italy, a Saxon, or rather an
English, population, thriving, busy, active, and progressing.
The parent remained stationary, retaining the shadowy in-
heritance of a mighty name, while its offspring, distinguished
by that of Stoke, which signifies an outlying hamlet, grew
and flourished, outstripping its aged mother, and contrasting
its restless lustihood with her time-honoured and dignified

And this is the Spirit of our Island life, even to the busy
current of the passing hour. It induced the Senate of
England to make a stand for the retention of the word
" Alderman." It permitted the electors of a Cornish borough
to go through the ceremony of choosing their representatives
round an old tree. The shadow of the majestic Past gave
grandeur to an idea that were else trivial and absurd. It
even hallowed those idle forms. It is a part of our august
inheritance, and our strength of to-day is founded upon that
■great Charter, wrung from the Crown, seven centuries ago,
by that same race of nobles " who willed not that the laws
of England should be changed." Upon that broad base
stands the Pyramid of our birthright. Until within the last
twenty years, the game laws of the Plantagenets were
tmrepealed. Ask who founded an University, and the

answer tells of Alfred. Demand what course was i^ursued,
Avlien it pleased God to afflict our King with the loss ol"
reason, and you find that a Committee was appointed to
inquire for precedents, nor would the legislature act, until it
knew what course had been pursued by our forefathers
under similar circumstances, five hu^ndred years before. We
have been, as a nation, too thoughtful and too wise to disdain
the lessons of Avisdom, bequeathed to us by our long ancestry.
A magnificent ruin was not to us a grey pile, and nothing
more. Some fine" historical memory had there

" A local habitation, and a name"
of which the neighbourhood was proud. The village at its
foot was perhaps destined to be a Manchester or a Liverpool,
but the very artisans looked up to the Castle with reverence,
though they had never heard, it might be, of the de Vipont
Avho reared it, and kneAv nothing of the six annulets upon
his mouldering shield.

It was so with the villa, or town, which forms the subject
of my tale. Such, at the early time to which I refer, Avas
its state, decayed, but not altogether discroAvned. Its very
name has perished. It was an Imj^erial waif, upon the green
hiEside, seen on crossing the little bridge in the valley, and
beginning the ascent of the beautiful slope, which conducts
to the old Saxon hamlet of Waddeton. All that remains of
it, now, is one of those distinctive terms, which are the
universal becpiest of Rome. Its principal gate looked towards
the rivulet, and the winding track bej^ond, and the fact still

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Online LibraryHenry John WhitfeldRambles in Devonshire, with tales and poetry → online text (page 1 of 12)