[Frontispiece: Lee Bay]
LYNTON AND LYNMOUTH
A PAGEANT OF CLIFF & MOORLAND
F. J. WIDGERY
CHATTO & WINDUS
I. DEVONSHIRE II. SOME LITERARY ASSOCIATIONS III. BARNSTAPLE IV. LYNTON V. LYNTON (continued), COUNTISBERRY, AND NORTHWARD VI. PORLOCK AND EXMOOR VII. IN SOMERSET VIII. LUNDY IX. THE LAST STRONGHOLDS OF TRADITION
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
LEE BAY . . . . . . . . . . . . frontispiece
THE DOONE VALLEY
WOODY BAY AND DUTY POINT, WEST LYNTON
THE SHEPHERD'S COTTAGE: DOONE VALLEY
LYNMOUTH BAY AND FORELAND
THE VALLEY OF ROCKS
HEDDON'S MOUTH, NEAR LYNTON
CASTLE ROCK, LYNTON
THE MOORS NEAR BRENDON TWO GATES
HARVEST MOON, EXMOOR
THE DOONE VALLEY IN WINTER
LYNTON: THE DEVIL'S CHEESERING
DUNKERY BEACON FROM HORNER WOODS
LYNTON AND LYNMOUTH
The original Celtic name for Devonshire, the name used by the Britons whom Caesar found here when he landed, was probably "Dyfnaint," for a Latinized form of it, "Dumnonia" or "Damnonia," was used by Diodorus Siculus when writing of the province of Devon and Cornwall in the third century A.D. So that the name by which the men of Devon call their country is the name by which those ancient men called it who erected the stone menhirs on Dartmoor, and built the great earth-camp of Clovelly Dykes, or the smaller bold stronghold of Countisbury. At least, conjecturally this is so, and it is pleasant to believe it, for it links the Devon of our own day, the Devon of rich valleys and windy moors, the land of streams and orchards, of bleak, magnificent cliff and rock-guarded bay, of shaded combe and suave, fair villages, in an unbroken tradition of name and habitation with the men of that silent and vanished race.
Up and down the length of England, from the Land's End to the Northumbrian dales, lie the traces of these far-off peoples whose very names are faint guesses preserved only in the traditions of local speech. Strangely and suddenly we come upon the evidence of their life and death: here a circle of stones on a barren moor or bleak hilltop, there a handful of potsherds or a flint arrowhead; sometimes, indeed, though rarely, the bones of their very bodies, laid aside in earth-barrows or stone coffins for this unknown length of years. And there the most unreflective among us feels a sudden awe and wonder at the momentary vision of the profound antiquity of this land in which we live, and for a few moments all desires and aims seem futile in face of this immemorial past.
Only for a few moments, though, and then we step from the "Druid Circle," or turn away from the barrow, and the current of our everyday life takes us up once more.
Myself, I agree with Westcote. Westcote is a charming old gentleman of King James the First's time, who wrote a book called "A View of Devonshire in 1630." In Chapter I he discusses the ancient name of Devonshire much as I have done, but because in the seventeenth century you must have a Latin or a Greek at your elbow to give you respectability as a writer, he brings forward a formidable array of authorities—Ptolemaeus, Solinus Pylyhistor, and Diodorus Siculus. But, having had them make their bow before the reader, he remarks that all these gentlemen lived "far remoted" from Devonshire, and were therefore liable to error in the transmission of names; "for, in my opinion," says he, "those that declare the first names of strange countries far remoted are as the poor which wear their garments all bepatched and pieced, whereof the pieces that are added are much more in quantity of cloth than the garment before, when it was first made."
As an example of this error he instances the name of Peru. "When the Spaniards had conquered Mexico, and were purposing to proceed farther, their commander, in his manner, demanded of one of the natives he met withal what the country was named, who answered, 'Peru,' by which name it is known unto this day, which in his language was, 'I know not what you say.'"
Even more fantastic is the etymological origin of Andaluzia, for the poor countryman of this story, when addressed by the conquering Moor, merely remarked surlily to his ass, "gee-up Luzia!" or, in his own tongue, "Ando Luzia!" which was taken by the Moor in remarkable good faith, and has ever after been the name of that province.
Westcote himself inclines to the origin De (or Di) Avon, "the country of waters," "diu" being the Celtic for God, and "avon" the word for river (which it certainly is), and the whole name agreeing with the character of the country, which is a land of many waters, both great rivers and small streams. But he goes on to observe tolerantly that each man may think as he chooses, even to deriving the word Devonshire from Dane-shire, the shire of the Danes, though it is known to have had its name before ever the first Dane landed in England, and there seems to be little likelihood, therefore, but only "a sympathie in letters." He concludes his discussion by the couplet:
"To no man am I so much thrall To swear he speaketh truth in all."
And with this tolerant and unpedantic frame of mind I am in hearty accord.
But if Caesar and the Romans, who for several centuries had a station at Exeter, their great "camp on the Exe," called the wide province of Devon and Cornwall "Damnonia," what did the Phoenicians call it when they traded Cornish tin along the Mediterranean, and even, it is said, into remote Africa, and ran their galleys into the little bay of Combe Martin, to lade with the silver and lead which can still be mined there, and which they may have carried to the old buried palaces of Knossos, to be fashioned into amulets and trinkets by those Cretans who built the dancing-floor of Ariadne and the maze of the Minotaur? That is a question that we cannot answer; all the busy speech of all those peoples is silent; only the old mine-workings remain, and the sacked and buried palaces of Crete, and a Phoenician ingot-mould fished up in Plymouth Harbour, and fitting, so 'tis said, an ingot which has been found in Central Africa.
With the coming of the Romans comes, as always, a little light, for they were a shrewd and mighty people, who liked their house set in order, and tabulated and recorded and organized, and have left traces of their orderliness on the face of the land, and the speech of the people, and the laws of the nations in three continents. They subdued Damnonia, and held it from their armed camp at Exeter, where Roman coins, pottery, brick, and inscriptions are found abundantly. Perhaps also they held and transformed several of the great earth-camps for their own uses, such as the Clovelly Dykes or the escarpments at Ilfracombe, built by the Britons or some earlier people. But the Romans do not appear to have settled in Devonshire as they did in East Anglia and the Midlands; I believe there are few traces of their dwellings, villas, roads, or baths, beyond Exeter in the West.
When their rule weakened and declined in the fifth century, certainly Damnonia would be one of the first provinces over which their jurisdiction waned, because of its inaccessibility, its deep wooded valleys, the wastes of Exmoor and Dartmoor, and the danger of its coasts; and we may well suppose that the old Celtic traditions and customs continued here but little modified by the Roman occupation.
Then at some time in the fifth and sixth centuries the Saxons came, but they seem to have come to Devonshire more peaceably than in their fierce raids on the south and east coasts; they came as Christians to the Christian British, and though they conquered them, they did not drive them out, nor compel them into mountain fastnesses, as the earlier Saxon conquerors drove the British into Wales. So that in Devon, though to a lesser degree than in Cornwall, and still less than in Wales, there is a larger admixture of original Celtic blood than in Kent, Sussex, Essex, and the counties of the Saxon heptarchy. But, according to Westcote—who is, for all his discursiveness, no bad authority—the Britons and the Saxons came to loggerheads; for the government being Saxon, and the laws and the language, the poor Britons could neither hear nor make themselves understood, and so took arms against the settlers, and were by them driven "beyond the river now called Taw-meer" (i.e., Tamar), and so out of Devon into Cornwall. This was done by King Athelstan, after he had beaten the Welsh at Hereford and subdued the Picts and Scots.
From this time forth, says Westcote, the Britons began to be called "Corn-Welshmen or Cornishmen," and he gives an elaborate etymology of the name, but adds that he need speak no further of Cornwall, "being eased of that labour by the industrious labours of the right worthy and worshipful gentleman Richard Carew, who . . . hath very eloquently described it."
The Saxons, as we know, led a struggling and turbulent existence for five or six centuries in contest with the Danes. Probably the full total of the misery inflicted on this country by the Danish raids can never be reckoned, but that they crippled and exhausted Saxon England by their frequency and the great duration of time over which they extended is apparent by the advance made in civilization in the short period between the breaking of their power and the coming of the Normans. Devonshire was not spared by them, and the cliffs of Teignmouth are said to be blood-red since a great slaughter of the Danes in 970. Certainly the Saxon Chronicle records contests bloody and pitiless enough, and tradition lingers still in many places where history has no record. In Devon, for instance, wherever the dwarf-elder grows folk say that Danish blood has been spilt, and that a group of these trees marks the site of an old battlefield; indeed, the dwarf-elder is still called "Danes-elder" in the West Country.
Between Bideford and Appledore, on this northern coast of Devon, stands Kenwith Castle—long called Hennaborough or Henry Hill—under whose walls the great Alfred and his son met the Danes under Hubba, and defeated them with great slaughter about the year 877. The English captured the famous standard of the Danes, the Raven, which was "wrought in needlework by the daughters of Lothbroc," and which had magical properties—clapping its wings when defeat was at hand. The remnant of the Danish force, carrying their wounded leader with them, retreated to their ships, and Hubba died there on the beach, and was buried by his followers before they fled aboard, under a great rock called Hubba's Stone, and now in corrupt form Hubblestone, a name which still clings near the spot, though probably the rock of Hubba is now swept by the sea. But under this rock he lies, with his weapons and trophies about him and his crown of gold on his head, until the last trump shall rouse him.
The grave of Hubba lies under the sea, like King Arthur's lost country of Lyonesse, where the fisher-folk say they can hear the bells ring from the drowned churches as they sail over them on still summer mornings; but near Porlock the sea has yielded the strip of land it has stolen from Bideford, and the Danish long-ships rode what are now the green fields around Porlock.
That it was so the very name Porlock shows, for Port-locan means an enclosed place for ships, under which name it is mentioned twice in the Saxon Chronicle. So the sea has retreated a mile and a half since the Danish raid of A.D. 918, when they entered the Severn, harried Wales, and landed at Porlock, only to be beaten back to their ships again by the Saxons.
Harold, the great English Harold who was slain at the Battle of Hastings, made a raid from Ireland in 1052. He ran into Porlock with nine ships, landed and went several miles inland, killing and looting, and returned in safety. But this filibustering expedition, so greatly to his discredit, and so unworthy to find a place among all his other acts, was almost certainly done in anger and dictated by personal revenge. For Porlock, which was plainly an important harbour and one of the seats of the Saxon Kings—at least, it is mentioned as having a "King's house" there—was the property of Algar, the son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia. But Harold was the son of Godwin, Earl of Kent, and Kent and Mercia were old and bitter enemies, and it was due to the intrigues of Mercia that Earl Godwin was banished, and Harold went with him to Ireland. Then, fourteen years later, William came to an England weakened by internal strife, and Harold was slain at Hastings and the Saxon lords dispossessed of their lands and goods, which were given to the foreigner. Here the Domesday Book, with its plain bare statements, gives us a grim record of the Conquest. All, or almost all, the Saxon names of the overlords disappear, and the Norman take their place, continuing down to our own day. This same Porlock was taken from Algar, son of Leofric, and given to Baldwin Redvers. Countisbury was taken from Ailmer, and held by William himself. Lynton was taken from Ailward Touchstone—it is interesting to find the name of Shakespeare's fool in Domesday Book—and held by William. Combe Martin (then called "Comba") was taken from Aluric and held by Jubel. Bideford and Clovelly were taken from Brihtric and given to Queen Matilda.
There is a curious and romantic story about this Brihtric, son of Aelfgar. He was one of the most powerful of the Saxon Thanes, and seems to have owned lands not only in Devon, but in Dorset, Somerset, and even in Gloucester, though the latter entries in Domesday may refer to another Brihtric, who was not the son of Aelfgar. When he was a young man, and before the marriage of Matilda to William of Normandy, Brihtric was sent by King Edward on a diplomatic mission to the Count of Flanders, Matilda's father, and there he met Matilda, who fell in love with him and offered herself in marriage. He refused her, and she married William; but later, when the cycle of events put her old lover in the power of her husband, she sued for and obtained the grant of many of his lands. Brihtric himself was seized at his house at Hanley, in Worcestershire, on the very day that Wulfstan had hallowed his chapel, and sent to Winchester, where he died in prison.
This story, which would have made a stirring theme for Sir Walter Scott, is found in the chronicles of Tewkesbury, in the Anglo-Norman chronicles, and in Wace, the old rhyming historian of the twelfth century. Here are a few lines of the old French version:
"Laquele jadsi, quant fu pucele, Ama un conte dangleterre, Brictrich Mau le oi nomer Apres le rois ki fu riche ber; A lui la pucele enuera messager Pur sa amour a lui procurer; Meis Brictrich Maude refusa, Dune ele m'lt se coruca, Hastivement mer passa E a Willam bastard se maria.
which we may put into English so:
"Who formerly, as a maiden, Loved an English count, Brihtric Maude heard him named; And who, save the King, than he was richer? To him the maiden sent a messenger To obtain his love; But Brihtric refused Matilda, Whereat she waxed very angry, Hastily passed over the sea And married William the bastard."
But if this is one of the stories which is preserved to us, with its fierce love, and its fierce hate, and its unsparing revenge, and all the human hopes and acts and motives of which it gives but a bare hint—the pride of Brihtric perhaps, or perhaps his love for another woman, for an alliance with the Count of Flanders might satisfy an ambitious man—how many tragic dramas, how many stories of cruelty and oppression and exile and mourning, lie behind the bare short records of the Domesday Book? All these sunny towns of North Devon and Somerset—Lynton, Crinton, Porlock, Countisbury, Paracombe, Challacombe, and north to Dunster, and south to Barnstaple and Bideford—all these wooded or wind-swept spots, which look as if they could have had no history, save of market-days and fairs, had their individual drama in that fierce annexation.
Sometimes, perhaps, they suffered hardly at all. Their Saxon lord lived elsewhere; he was slain or banished, and they came imperceptibly under the Norman rule. But more often, I imagine, particularly on the smaller estates, the lord dwelt in patriarchal intercourse with his tenants, with that freedom of speech and right of judgment, which, in "Ivanhoe," Scott draws in the household and retinue of Cedric; and the eviction was bitter, and the rule of the new lord oppressive and hateful.
Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, twenty years after the landing of William, so that a new generation was already growing up, and the old scars were beginning to heal. Here is a translation of the entry on Lynton:
"William has a manor called Lintona, which Ailward Touchstone held on the day on which King Edward was alive and dead, and with this manor was added formerly another called Incrintona, which Algar held. These are held by William for one manor, and they rendered geld for one hide. . . . Lintona is worth four pounds and Incrintona three pounds. When William received them Lintona was worth 20 shillings and Incrintona 15. . . ."
It is interesting to note how all property throughout England had advanced in value since "the day that King Edward was alive and dead"; in the old English, "on pam timan pe Eadward cing was cucu and dead"—i.e., on the fifth of January 1066—which is a clear intimation that the firm rule of the Conqueror had increased the material prosperity of the country in one generation.
After the Conquest there was peace in Devonshire for many years, though Exeter was besieged by Stephen for three months in 1137, when he and Matilda, the mother of Henry II, rent England with a war of succession; but the young Henry came to the throne in 1152, and ruled wisely and strongly for thirty-five years. Under him Devon prospered, as did all England, and the cloth-making industry, which in Westcote's time, in the seventeenth century, was so notable a part of the wealth of Devon, probably had its first considerable beginnings in this reign.
But Henry II is remembered less for his wise laws and far-sighted government than for the murder of Thomas a Becket, which clouded his latter years and brought his enemies—his wife and his son among them—swarming about his ears. This northern coast of Devon is linked with that dark crypt in Canterbury where Becket fell in the sacerdotal robes of High Mass; for it was a Tracy who was one of the four knights who spurred from London to rid Henry "of this turbulent priest," and the Tracys owned Lynton, Countisbury, and Morthoe. It is to Morthoe that Tracy is supposed to have come after the murder, with the curse upon him which descended to his family—that, wherever they went,
"the Tracys Have always the wind and the rain in their faces"—
and to have lived out the bitter end of his life with the horror of sacrilege in his heart. There is a monument in the church of Morthoe of William de Tracy, but it is of early fourteenth-century date, and belongs to a descendant of King Henry's knight, who was rector of the parish. A later Tracy was Baron of Barnstaple, and was appointed Governor of the island of Lundy in the reign of Henry III.
Nearly a century later Edward II, flying from the armies of his Queen and the turbulent barons, took ship for Lundy, but was driven back to Wales by contrary winds. And of this event a poem was made in the reign of James I, which is quoted by Westcote as written by a "modern poet," though he does not give us the name. The verse still retains a smack of the Elizabethan diction—not the Shakespeare magic, indeed, but the euphuistic, antithetical, fantastic balance of phrases:
"To Lundy which in Sabrin's mouth doth stand, Carried with hope (still hoping to find ease), Imagining it were his native land, England itself; Severn, the narrow seas; With this conceit, poor soul, himself doth please. And sith his rule is over-ruled by men, On birds and beasts he'll king it once again."
Devon took its unhappy share in the Wars of the Roses, and Perkin Warbeck besieged Exeter in 1497, but unsuccessfully, like most other exploits of that unlucky adventurer. Fifty years later the West rose in arms against Henry VIII, in support of the "old religion," and to protest against the dissolution of the monasteries; but the rising was put down, and Henry took and subdued Exeter, and carried through his bold and often ruthless policy.
But it is in the reign of Elizabeth that Devon takes on the special glamour with which it is still associated in most minds. For it was the sixteenth century which gave to England such men as Richard and John Hawkins, Adrien and Humphrey Gilbert, John Davies—that sailor friend of Adrien Gilbert's who, inspired by him, made the first dark voyage into the Polar regions, and traded with the Esquimaux, as told in Hakluyt's "Voyages"—and Sir Richard Grenville, with his "men of Bideford in Devon," with whom he fought the Revenge single-handed against the fifty and three Spanish galleons in that last, greatest fight of all; and Sir Walter Raleigh, a philosopher among courtiers, a poet among princes, statesman, dreamer, adventurer, who planned nobly and executed daringly, and failed more greatly than other men succeed. Millais has drawn him for us, in his boyhood, sitting on the beach at Budleigh Salterton, with the wind blowing his hair round his sensitive, eager face, hugging his knees as he listens to the stories of the sailor with the bright parrot-feathers in his hat, one of the men, perhaps, who sailed with Frobisher or terrible John Hawkins, round the world to the far-off coasts of adventure, the lands of gold and spices. It is to Raleigh, and to his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, that we owe the first colony of America, "Virginia," called so by Raleigh from the Virgin Queen, in the compliment of his day—to them is due the praise of having seen that "colonization, trade, and the enlargement of Empire, were all more important for the welfare of England than the acquisition of gold," and this in an age which was dazzled by the facilities of wealth lying ready to the greedy hand in that "New World."
And this mind, so daring, so original, so diverse, which could turn a sonnet or design a battleship (for the Ark Raleigh, built after his plans, was admittedly the best ship of our fleet that met the Armada), which had experienced the favour and disfavour of princes in the fullest degree, which had known triumph and discouragement beyond the ordinary measure of humanity, turned in the last dark years of imprisonment to a steady contemplation of human activity, and, largely conceiving here, as in all else, planned a "History of the World." Let his own noble words be his epitaph:
"O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what none have dared, thou hast done; and whom all the world have flattered, thou only hast cast out of the world and despised; thou hast drawn together all the far-stretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two narrow words, 'Hic jacet.'"
And then there was Drake—Drake, whose name perhaps overshadows all other names in Devon; Drake, who
"was playing a rubber of bowls When the great Armada came;"
but, being told of the sighting of the fleet, remarked that "they must wait their turn, good souls," and continued his game; Drake, who, the year before the sailing of the Armada, "singed the King of Spain's beard" most mightily, going up and down the coasts of Spain and Portugal, plundering and burning the ships in their very harbours; who sailed round the world, with the sun for "fellow traveller," as an epitaph under his portrait in the Guildhall says of him; who, on the first independent expedition which he led to America, received a dangerous wound in his attack on Nombre de Dios, but concealed it from his men, and led them to the public treasury, telling them "that he had brought them to the mouth of the treasury of the world," and then fainted over the great bars of silver and gold, and when they took him up he was losing "so much blood as filled his very footsteps in the sand;" Drake, who has become a legend and a myth in Devon, so that the country-people say that he brought water from Dartmoor to Plymouth, by compelling a stream to follow his horse's heels all the way into the town; who, like King Arthur and Barbarossa, is not dead, but will return again to his country if his people in their need strike on his drum and call him.
But beyond and behind all these great names, which ring in our ears like martial music, are the nameless crowd of Devon men who sailed with them, and fought with them, and worked with them, and loved them. Men from Bideford and Appledore and Barnstaple, from Teignmouth and Budleigh and Dartmouth, from every little harbour along the bold north coast, from every creek and bay of the south, from the sheltered villages among their trees, from the wind-swept, hilly little towns, from the busy quayside or the lonely farm, came the men whose courage and whose will, whose love of profit and greater love of adventure, gave a lustre to England in the "golden days of Elizabeth."
Those days passed, and were followed presently by the unhappy years of the great Civil Wars. It was perhaps not unfitting that a Grenville—Sir Bevil Grenville—led an army against the Parliamentarian troops in the Battle of Lansdown Hill, though it was an army of Cornishmen he led, and not of Devonshire men, for the Grenvilles were then living at their Cornish home of Stowe. Sir Bevil was killed in battle, but Anthony Payne, his servant, a great giant of a man, and a true friend to his master, set Sir Bevil's young son upon his father's horse, and bade him lead his father's men to victory, as, had he lived, his father would have done. Afterwards Anthony Payne brought Sir Bevil's body back to Stowe, and he wrote to Lady Grenville a letter which deserves to be recorded for its true and simple dignity:
"Ill news flieth apace: the heavy tidings hath no doubt already travelled to Stowe that we have lost our blessed master by the enemies' advantage. You must not, dear lady, grieve too much for your noble spouse. You know, as we all believe, that his soul was in heaven before his bones were cold. He fell, as he did often tell us he wished to die, for the good Stewart cause, for his country and his King. He delivered to me his last commands, and with such tender words for you and for his children as are not to be set down with my poor pen, but must come to your ears upon my best heart's breath. . . . I am coming down with the mournfullest burden that ever a poor servant did bear, to bring the great heart that is cold to Kilkhampton vault. Oh, my lady, how shall I ever brook your weeping face? . . ."
This perhaps, is Cornish history and not Devonshire, except that the name of Grenville is so inseparably linked in our minds with Devon.
During the Royalist wars from 1642-1650 Exeter was twice besieged by the Parliamentarians; Ilfracombe twice changed hands, in 1644 being taken by Doddington for the Royalists, and two years later falling to Fairfax after his capture of Barnstaple; Tiverton also was besieged by the Royalists, though it seems to have held within itself the two irreconcilable factions. But it was not in Devon that the fiercest battles of that time were fought, nor the greatest and bitterest disunion prevailed. Of the subsequent history of Devon I shall say little. The unhappy expedition of the Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis, just on the borders of Dorset and Devon, and he himself was joyfully received in Exeter; but it was in Somerset that the battle of Sedgemoor was lost, and Somerset that suffered chiefly from the Bloody Assizes.
Let us rather turn to the Devon of to-day, realizing with thankfulness that the traditions of Drake and Frobisher, of Grenville and Hawkins, still hold; that the heirs of the men who put out in their frail ships for the New World, now buffet round our wild coasts in minesweeper or trawler, destroyer or old cargo tubs, on a far more grim adventure. Without the hope of gain, without the spur of glory, from every port and harbour, from every creek and bay and inlet of our coasts comes the patient, silent, heroic service of the men of the sea.
And on many a hasty grave, in the shot-riddled mud of Flanders, or on the barren beaches of Gallipoli or the ruined lands of Babylon, might that poem of Sir Henry Newbolt's which he calls "April on Waggon Hill" be set up as a fitting epitaph:
"Lad, and can you rest now, There beneath your hill? Your hands are on your breast now, But is your heart so still? 'Twas the right death to die, lad, A gift without regret, But unless truth's a lie, lad, You dream of Devon yet.
"Ay, ay, the year's awaking, The fire's among the ling, The beechen hedge is breaking, The curlew's on the wing; Primroses are out, lad, On the high banks of Lee, And the sun stirs the trout, lad, From Brendon to the sea.
"I know what's in your heart, lad— The mare he used to hunt, And her blue market-cart, lad, With posies tied in front. We miss them from the moor road, They're getting old to roam, The road they're on's a sure road And nearer, lad, to home.
"Your name, the name they cherish? 'Twill fade, lad, 'tis true: But stone and all may perish With little loss to you. While fame's fame you're Devon, lad, The Glory of the West; Till the roll's called in heaven, lad, You may well take your rest."
SOME LITERARY ASSOCIATIONS
From Barnstaple to Dunster, and from Tiverton to Lynton, this beautiful piece of country is peculiarly rich in literary associations. Nor is this to be wondered at when we consider the variety and the loveliness of the scenery, the great open, heathery wastes of Exmoor, the wind-swept cliffs and highlands, the fair and luxuriant valleys where the pure bright waters of these hill-fed streams flow through a green tunnel of overarching trees, making a fertile paradise of flower and fern in their course. And the magnificent bold rocks and forelands of the coast, the streams broken into feathery spray falling down the precipitous face of the cliffs, creek and gully and cave, the wave-washed golden sands of the bays, or the line of foam fretting ever at the foot of these granite crags. And beyond is the sea; from every hilltop the eye turns to it, in the sheltered orchards the air is salt with it, the thunder of its great breakers on the coast can be heard far inland, an undercurrent beneath the singing of birds and the hum of bees; it is never far from the eyes or from the mind, blue as faery under a June sun, when the wheeling gulls are dazzling white flashes above it, broken into greys and greens and purples by the sudden hail of quick spring squalls, a heaving grey waste of waters under steady rain, or a wild and elemental force, terrible and splendid, under the fury of a gale.
It is a land for poets and dreamers, a land to touch the fancy and stir the imagination of men, a land of beauty and of adventure.
It will not, therefore, be without interest to pick up thread after thread by which the ports and hamlets, woods and waterfalls, are woven into the history of our literature.
We find a trace, firstly, of the chief of poets and greatest name of all—Shakespeare—in the municipal records of Barnstaple, where under the date 1605 an entry records: "Geven to the Kynges players being in the town this year xs." That is all, and Shakespeare is not named; but we know that he was associated with the Kynges Players for many years, and Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, who is a well-known authority on this subject, asserts that at this date Shakespeare was still one of the company. It is a shadowy trace enough, but in view of the bare outlines of the life and death of this man, whose name is almost universal and whose history is almost completely obscure, we seize on any tiny fact that may help to bring before us so wonderful a personality. That Shakespeare was in Barnstaple, went up and down Boutport Street, the old street that half encircles the town, running "about the port," that he acted here, lodged here, if only for a week or two, talked in the tavern and walked in the old town, with that observant inner eye which noted the veriest detail of life, the swing of a flower, the swallow under the eaves, the idiosyncrasy of dress or gesture in the passers-by, and at the same time comprehended and recorded the springs of action, the fumbling thoughts, the consciences, the strivings, and the pretences, of the world of men and women that moved around him—that Shakespeare was, once in his short and wonderful life, actually in Barnstaple gives even to the most unreflective an interest and a romance to this town.
It was near Barnstaple, also, and during Shakespeare's lifetime, that Thomas Westcote, gentleman, was born at Westcote, in the parish of Marwood, in 1567. He wrote, towards the end of his life, a description of the country called "A View of Devon," and a genealogy of the principal families. It was not published until 1845, but is well worthy of being preserved, not only for its antiquarian interest, as being the earliest account of Devonshire, its agriculture and its industries, but also for the pleasure of its quaint turns of phrase, the ponderous classic authorities which he marshals to support a simple fact—and there are indeed some strange wild-fowl among his authorities—and above all for a gentle and unobtrusive humour which seasons all the narrative. Westcote gives a list of the fish afforded by the Devon seas (a very imperfect list by modern computation), and adds:
"It might be much more enlarged, but your server shall stand no longer at the dresser, lest the first dish be stale ere the last come to the table. Yet, notwithstanding, I will here confess that had you supped with Aulus Gellius, the Roman Emperor, you might say my bill came much too short; yea! by 1800; for as Suetonius, in lib. 9, and Josephus, lib. 5, alledge, he was served at one meal with 2,000; (if you please to believe there are so many species of fish;) but he had indeed a large country to make his provision in, the whole then known world. . . . But for the other supper of 7,000 divers kinds of fowls, I will not undertake to name them here, nor in Africa, and Asia, with all the assistance that Gesnerus can afford me."
This is a style without hurry, indeed, in a peaceable rambling world, and one can imagine Westcote, with his pointed beard and his tall hat of the fashion of James I., taking a little walk in the afternoon sun after having spent the morning with his quill-pen and his calf-bound, close-printed classics—Suetonius, and Gesnerus, and Diodorus Siculus. His book is interspersed with little rhymes, couplets or longer verses, in the style of the "Arabian Nights" stories, and which George Meredith in the "Shaving of Shagpat" has used with such quaint effect; on every subject and for every statement Westcote has an authority and an aphorism, whether it is of "Day labourers in Tin-works, and Hirelings in Husbandry," of fishermen or merchantmen, of trade or agriculture—"for, as Horace speaketh," says he,
"Who much do crave, of much have need; But well is he whom God indeed, Though with a sparing hand, doth feed."
Or again, speaking of "the commodities this country yields":
"England hath store of bridges, hills, and wool, Of churches, wells, and women beautiful."
He is no mere antiquarian, however, and quotes Chaucer and Robert of Gloucester as well as Theocritus and Horace; he is seriously perturbed at the decline of agriculture in Devonshire; in spite of the fertility of the soil, he says, it yields insufficience of bread, beer, and victual, to feed itself, for which the country has to have recourse to Wales or Ireland, so much so that in 1610 there was 60,000 pounds of corn brought into one harbour alone. The reason for this is the increase in trades, so that . . . "the meanest sort of people will now rather place their children to some of these mechanical trades than to husbandry"; in spite, also, of the almost sacred character of husbandry, which was clearly recognized in "elder times," so that even the rudest and most savage peoples respected ploughmen and tillers of the soil in time of war. He then quotes some melancholy verses of Virgil, and gives the whole chapter a twist of humour by ending up with—"But not a word of this in any case, especially that I told you so; and we will proceed to the next and speak of mines."
I will also "proceed to the next," and speak of Bishop Jewel, a fellow-countryman of Westcote's, and one about whom he speaks in the highest praise: "a perfect rich gem and true jewel indeed . . . so that if anywhere the observation of Chrysostom be true, that there lies a great hidden treasure in names, surely it may rightly be said to be here: grace in John, and eminent perfection in jewel."
John Jewel was born at Berrynarbor, near Ilfracombe, in 1522; he went to Merton College, Oxford, where he had for tutor John Parkhurst, under whom he early acquired a bent towards Protestantism. After the accession of Mary he allowed himself, in a moment of weakness, to sign an adherence to the Romish faith, but his recantation weighed upon his conscience, he fled to the Continent, and there publicly withdrew it. In the reign of Elizabeth he returned to England, and was one of the Protestant doctors chosen to dispute before her at Westminster with a like number of Catholic divines. He became Bishop of Salisbury in 1560, and held that office till his death in 1571. His chief work was an "Apology for the Anglican Church"; and his chief opponent was Thomas Harding, who was born at Comb Martin, the next parish, and who, like Jewel, went to the grammar-school at Barnstaple in his early boyhood, so that they were near neighbours and dear enemies. "As I cannot well take a hair from your lying beard, so I wish I could pluck malice from your blasphemous heart," says Harding to Jewel, in that savage personal invective that religious controversialists have permitted themselves in all ages. Jewel does not seem ever to have answered in this unworthy strain, and the singular purity of his life, the sincerity of his opinions, and a certain lovable quality to which all his contemporaries bear witness, gave even his political adversaries a personal attachment to him. "I should love thee, Jewel, wert thou not a Zwinglian," cries one. "In thy faith thou art a heretic, but sure in the life thou art an angel"—surely the most splendid tribute that a man can have, when we consider the bitterness and animosity bred by a difference of religious belief. To all who loved him—and it seems to have been his whole generation—his name gave the opportunity of affectionate puns, quips, and little epigrams; to Queen Elizabeth he was "my Jewel," and the epitaph Westcote makes upon him is that of St. Gregory upon St. Basil: "His words were thunder, and his life lightning," and his memory "a fragrant sweet-smelling odour, blown abroad . . . throughout the whole kingdom."
We may find a lingering trace at Barnstaple, also, before going farther north, of another eager spirit and earnest reformer, Shelley, whose gift of poetry we accept, and whose quick courage we profit by, in a world of thought where we breathe a little freer because of his efforts and ideals, while we still despise or half shamefacedly apologize for the strivings and struggles of his life. He prevailed upon Syle, a printer of Barnstaple, to publish his "Letter to Lord Ellenborough," which was in effect a violent and heated attack upon this Judge for the sentence he had passed on the publisher of Tom Paine's "Age of Reason," which was considered by Lord Ellenborough and that generation as a dangerous and revolutionary document, subversive of the political morals of the world. Those were the days of the French Revolution, and it seemed to many, as honest as Shelley, that the whole social fabric was threatening to crumble before the rising flood of anarchy, bloodshed, and disorder. Syle was prevailed upon to withdraw the greater number of copies—it speaks much for his courage and convictions that he ever published it—and Shelley found it advisable to leave Devon.
For Shelley had been living at Lynton during the early days of his ill-fated first marriage with the Harriet; the cottage where they lived can still be seen, though much altered and modernized since the unhappy young man and woman tried to work out together a means of right living and mutual happiness, and made so tragic a failure of it.
It was to Lynton, too, that Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and Coleridge, came on a visit, and were so ravished by the beauty of the place that they were nearly decided to settle here, and might have founded a school of Devon poets instead of Lake poets. It was at Lynton, also, that "The Ancient Mariner" was planned, to pay for the expenses of the holiday, and was begun by Wordsworth and Coleridge together, though there is actually very little of Wordsworth's work in it, and the spirit of it, the air of mystery and the sense of brooding elemental forces with which its simplest lines are somehow invested, belongs to Coleridge alone, and to that strange genius of his, which only twice or thrice in his life—in "Christabel," "The Ancient Mariner," and "Kubla Khan"—produced poetry of inimitable, strange beauty and wonder.
If Lynton is beautiful now, with its new houses and hotels, and that air of snugness that prosperity gives to places and persons, the poetic appeal of its loveliness to Wordsworth and Coleridge can be well imagined when only the low-browed, thatched little cottages clung to the steep cliff-paths and clustered round the small harbour, and from the surrounding heights and hills one looked down upon nothing but green valleys, and from the valleys one looked up to the bare cliffs and crags.
Southey also was drawn to this corner of England by the fame of its beauty; on one occasion, when walking across Exmoor, he was driven to take refuge at Porlock from the heavy rain, and visitors to the Ship Inn are still shown the corner by the wide old fireplace where the poet, presumably, dried his knees and wrote the ode which begins with the following inadequate description:
"Porlock, thy verdant vale, so fair to sight, Thy lofty hills, with fern and furze so brown, Thy waters that so musical roll down Thy woody glens, the traveller with delight Recalls to memory, and the channel grey Circling it, surging in thy level bay."
Then, George Eliot and Lewes discovered this north-west coast, and came to Ilfracombe, with which they were delighted; and the unconventional lady, with her broad-brimmed straw hat tied under her chin (in the days when people wore bonnets), was soon a familiar enough figure, to be seen scrambling over the rocks of the bay which is haunted by the spirit of Tracy, or looking for seaweed and anemones in the clear rock-pools at low-tide. Ilfracombe then, in the middle of the last century, kept much of its original character as a seaport of importance, which in its day had sent representatives to a shipping council in the fourteenth century, had contributed six ships towards the Siege of Calais—at a time when Liverpool was only of sufficient size to send one—and had had enough strategical value to be the scene of a projected French invasion under Napoleon. Already Ilfracombe was beginning to be, however, what it now is pre-eminently, a "holiday resort." It was patronized by royalty, and, following royalty, by "the aristocracy and military," who came to enjoy the "overwhelming charms" Nature poured forth here "with a tremendous and prolific grandeur which we shall not pretend to describe," as Mr. Cornish mellifluously exclaims in his "Rise and Progress of the Towns in North Devon." In the seventies the present German Emperor, then Prince William of Prussia, was sent here with his tutors; and there is a story, preserved with great pride, of a fight on the beach between him and a bathing-machine boy, at whose father's property the Prince was throwing stones. An account of this historic battle is preserved in a doggerel ballad, printed and sold locally, and composed Heaven knows where, which is called "Tapping the War-Lord's Claret: Why Kaiser Bill hates England."
"When Kaiser Will'um was a y'uth He com'd t' Combe one day, And at the big hotel out there He stopped on holiday. . . ."
He went bathing in Rapparee Cove, and when his tutors were out of sight began blazing at the numbers on the boxes, though warned by "young Alfie Price" not to; and after a wordy altercation the Kaiser knocked down Alfie, who got up and went for him "just like a Devon bull."
"He knacked the Kaiser on the nose, And tapped the ry'al blid. . . ."
The tutors came up and intervened, and Alf was given thirty shillings to keep the matter quiet; but Kaiser Bill swore implacable hate of the English, because of the affront, built his Dreadnoughts and drilled his army to avenge the insult of Rapparee Cove upon the English nation.
Local publications are always, I think, of some interest, even when they are as rough and simple a doggerel as the above; and there are two magazines, printed and published at Barnstaple in the early years of the nineteenth century, and which may be seen in the Athenaeum Library of the town. They are the Lundy Review and The Cave, and they contain stories, poetry, puns, epigrams, acrostics, all with the mild, faint flavour of a curate's tea-party in a cathedral town, and yet invested with a kind of charm by the old-fashioned type, the yellowing paper, and a small, dim picture—like the images of ourselves and our furniture which we see in those old, round, diminishing mirrors—of the life of a century ago. There is poetry of the Lake School fashion, exhortations to Bideford and Woody Bay, to Lynton or "The Beauties of Devon"; there is more poetry of the Byronic fashion, fierce and satiric invective (yet never, be it understood, transgressing the bounds of decency or good manners!) against the lady of the poet's affection; there are stories, in which love and virtue triumph over temptation and evil-doing; there is, of course, at least one story of a blind girl, and one of a consumptive; there is much harmless punning, and in the acrostics which the ladies of 1820 so much loved are fantastically woven the names of the handsome young women of Barnstaple whose only other record is now upon a tombstone.
There is a strong tone of "patriotism," if by that we mean a dignified contempt for foreign manners and customs, foreign thought and foreign speech. I call to mind one article, where the writer is good-humouredly but supremely contemptuous of the French, because of their manner of pronouncing classical names. What can you expect of a nation, says he, for whom Titus Livy is no better than a "tom-tit-liv-ing" in a hedge, and Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor philosopher, becomes "Mark O'Rail," a mere beggerly, abusive Irishman?
This insularity of ours, which appears in a comic aspect in this article in The Cave, continued throughout the nineteenth century, and withstood the shock of the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny without apparently being in any way shaken; it is breaking now, indeed, under the humiliations of the South African War, when we were made to feel our isolation in Europe, and under the stress of this greatest war of all, when at last we feel and say that we are proud to stand with the nations of the Continent in a common cause.
But, in the nineteenth century, not only was our insular prejudice extreme, but there was a pride in our very prejudice, which made it seem hopelessly fixed and stultified. There is a trail of it through all but the greatest writings of that time, Tennyson was not without it, Charles Kingsley, Froude. . . . To the novel it became actually a stock-in-trade, and as such it was used by Henry Kingsley in his novel of "Ravenshoe." He was a younger brother of Charles, and his life was as restless and adventurous as a novel. He was, besides being an author, an explorer to the Australian goldfields—from which he came back rich in observation of men and manners, but without having made a pecuniary fortune—the editor of a paper, the Edinburgh Daily Review, and a correspondent in the Franco-Prussian War. He was a prolific and too hasty writer, but his novel of "Ravenshoe," whose scene is principally laid on the northern strip of Somerset coast, bordering the Bristol Channel, and which was his own favourite among his works, is considered by many critics to reach a high level, and to stand comparison with the work of his more famous brother. In the Academy of 1901 the following tribute to the book appeared under the initials C.K.B.: "I first read 'Ravenshoe' at that period when absolute romance and absolute fact have to live together; and very turbulent partners they make. The appeal of the book was instant and permanent. Even now, after a dozen years I cannot read the story unmoved. . . . Each point holds me of old, by sheer force of its human presentation, its resourceful dialogue, its unwearied vitality."
I first read "Ravenshoe" in this year of 1917, and to me the world seems to have travelled so far since its publication in 1862, that its aims, its ideals, and its point of view, are hardly credible. Through it all runs that facile spirit of optimism which seems to me to have distinguished much of the thought of the mid-Victorian era, that air of "All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds," that insular pride of which I have been speaking, but which to us now appears the narrowest and worst form of parochialism, a certainty that English beef, English beer, English morals, and English standards, were the ultimate excellence towards which a world of misguided foreigners might ultimately aspire, that self-satisfaction, different from pride, that glorying in prejudice, and wilful blindness to all features of national life which do not bear out the theory of an earthly paradise. "Tell me one thing, Lord Saltire; you have travelled in many countries. Is there any land, east or west, that can give us what this dear old England does—settled order, in which each man knows his place and his duties? It is so easy to be good in England."
"Well, no. It is the first country in the world. A few bad harvests would make a hell of it, though."
This was written at a time, remember, when the invention of machinery, the rapid growth of industrialism, and the increasing mobility of the population of the world, had broken down the old order of things, had created large fortunes and reduced thousands to destitution; when men poured into cities and lived crowded and unhealthy in slums, when the opening phase of the grim battle between employer and employed was fought, when trade-unionism was wrested from an unwilling Government, when housing regulations, health regulations, and poor-laws, were incapable of dealing with the wars of misery, poverty, and sickness, they were designed to meet, when little by little vested interests and class prejudices were brought before the judgment of reason and found wanting—it was in such a period of our national history that Harry Kingsley could write of "settled order, in which each one knows his place and his duties."
This attitude of mind is characteristic of a whole school of mid-Victorian novelists, and George Meredith—whose earliest novel, "Richard Feverel," was published about this date—broke many a lance against it, and scolded us and laughed at us, and upset our dignified conception of ourselves, and sometimes, in his irritable affection for his countrymen, took a bludgeon to us, and broke our heads.
I find it also in another and much greater novel, to attack which in a book dealing with this corner of Devon and Somerset is indeed a sort of lese-majeste—for, to most people, who says "Exmoor" says "Lorna Doone."
Yet rereading the book in these present days—and even amid the scenes whose beauty and whose character Blackmore has so firmly reproduced—I find the parochialism, the self-satisfaction, and the prejudice, which lumps the whole un-English world, with its revolutions, and ideals, and racial problems, under one heading, as "dam-furriners." John Ridd is English, therefore he despises what is not English; he is rather stupid, therefore he despises intellect. "She was born next day with more mind than body—the worst thing that can befall a man," he says of his sister Eliza. He is a man, so, at the last stage of self-satisfaction, he despises what is not man—woman. "Now I spoke gently to Lorna, seeing how much she had been tried; and I praised her for her courage, in not having run away, when she was so unable; and my darling was pleased with this. . . . But you may take this as a general rule, that a woman likes praise from the man she loves, and cannot stop always to balance it." "But he led me aside in the course of the evening, and told me all about it; saying that I knew, as well as he did, that it was not women's business. . . . Herein I quite agreed with him, because I always think that women, of whatever mind, are best when least they meddle with things that appertain to men." As the matter under discussion was a question of their all having their throats cut by the Doones, and the farm being burnt over their heads, it seems to us to have been, at least in some slight degree, the women's business.
The hero of "Ravenshoe," Charles, is of the same type, though not drawn with the firmness of touch with which Blackmore depicts John Ridd, and which makes him indeed a living personality to us, even if one to quarrel with.
Charles Ravenshoe is of the type which for many years we have striven to present to the contemplation of the outside world as the perfect Englishman. He is a bluff, hearty fellow, without serious vices, without, also, serious virtues; he has, of course, a perfect self-satisfaction, and a deep and unconscious selfishness, tempered by an easy good-nature and a superficial benevolence, of wishing to get on well with everybody, and to see everybody round him comfortable. He is without ideals or spiritual aims, and has a contemptuous tolerance for them, as in the case of his brother Cuthbert, who is deeply religious and desirous of entering a monastery, and yet is held by the temptations of the world, so that his mind is a continual striving and renunciation. Charles's relationship with the lady of his choice may be gauged by the following: "How is Adelaide?" asks his adopted sister. "Adelaide is all that the fondest lover could desire," he answers. Did the Englishmen of the nineteenth century really talk like that about their dearest and most intimate affairs?
And yet here is John Ridd, the accepted lover of Lorna, an honest, clumsy, self-satisfied couple of yards of a man, for whom she has to be properly grateful in a world of villains, and yet, for my part, I can never look upon her marriage with him as other than a mesalliance.
Of course, it must be understood, even by those who most violently disagree with me, that these strictures are passed, not upon Blackmore's novel, but upon the spirit of the age which made John Ridd the hero of such a novel, the spirit which in the dress of "John Bull" has insistently presented our less attractive qualities to the outside world as the true Englishman, and which has been, by the outside world, adopted and disliked; while such admirable traits as sincerity, disinterestedness, and self-criticism, have been neglected by us and ignored by them.
For the novel itself it is difficult to have anything but praise. The admirable sense of locality, and the art with which Blackmore has so identified his persons of fiction with actual places till we no longer disassociate them, but in the church of Oare, or the Doone Valley, or Porlock, or Badgeworthy Water, think and speak of Lorna and John Kidd as if they had had an actual existence; the firm and lively drawing of the lesser characters, the charming pastoral scenes of the life on the Ridds' farm, the really magnificent descriptions of the scenery of Exmoor, and a particular gift of narrative, all place this novel of Blackmore's on a high level in the literature of the nineteenth century. His other novel, of which the scene is laid on this coast, is "The Maid of Sker," less well known and of less artistic weight, but of interest to anyone visiting the country between Barnstaple and Lynton, and containing a particularly vivid account of old Barnstaple Fair.
I have spoken of Henry Kingsley's novel "Ravenshoe," and it is impossible to write of the literary associations of this district without mention of his elder and more famous brother; for though "Westward Ho!" deals with Bideford and its adjacent villages of Appledore and Northam—it was at the latter village that Amyas Leigh lived with his mother—-and this book elects to deal only with the country from Barnstaple northwards and westwards, yet Charles Kingsley is the presiding local deity and guardian spirit, who has loved and lived in and written in praise of the many beautiful spots, cliff and cove, or valley and orchard, from the boundaries of Cornwall to Somerset.
The family of Kingsley, also, is intimately connected with many of the families of these villages. The Rev. J. R. Chanter, Vicar of Parracombe, married a Miss Kingsley. He himself is the author of a short monograph on Lundy, a book which is now very scarce, but which can be seen at the London Library, at the Bideford Public Library, and at the Athenaeum at Barnstaple. The Kingsleys and the Chanters are closely connected through two generations, and the strain of authorship seems to persist in them, one member after another displaying an exceptional talent. Miss Vallings, the young author of a quickly celebrated novel, "Bindweed," is a granddaughter of Mr. Chanter, and a grandniece of Kingsley's; and the bold and original writer "Lucas Mallet" is Canon Kingsley's daughter, and a niece of Henry Kingsley.
Barnstaple is a pleasant English country town, with that air of cleanliness and quiet prosperity, of excellent sanitation and odd historic corners, side by side with big new modern buildings and exquisite green gardens where the old gnarled apple-trees are afroth with blossom in the spring, which is the peculiar flavour of an English country town. The incongruity is the charm; you step from a modern drapery store, with a respectable display of plate-glass, on to the clean narrow pavement, and find yourself looking down a small dark passage opposite, into a sunny paved court, where the houses are cream-washed, and the roofs are atilt in odd delicious angles, and the casement windows have still the old diamond panes of Elizabeth's day, and the sun lies slanting across the pots of wallflower, and the small boys play marbles as they played marbles there when the Armada sailed. Barnstaple is a thriving little modern town, but it has many such charming scenes to the visitor with an observant eye—a narrow cobbled street, with an irregular sag of gabled houses either side, the cream and rose-coloured walls mellow and sunny in the late afternoon, or a cluster of really beautiful half-timbered houses of the sixteenth century, with carved oak doorposts and beam-ends, such as those which are known as Church Row, and stand back from the road, between Boutport Street, and the High Street, by St. Peter's Church and St. Anne's Chapel. St. Peter's Church, which stands between these two main streets in the very centre of the town, is of the fourteenth century, and has a fine leaded spire, considered to be one of the finest in Europe, which the nineteenth century was anxious to abolish, and replace by a western tower of the more ordinary type. Fortunately Sir Gilbert Scott was called in to restore the church, and refused to have a hand in destroying the spire, so the old parish church stands as it was built, but with its spire drawn curiously out of the perpendicular by the action of the sun's rays on the lead.
Within a few yards of St. Peter's stands the grammar-school, where Bishop Jewel and his neighbour and enemy, Thomas Harding, went to school in the early sixteenth century, and the poet Gay in the beginning of the eighteenth. It was originally a chapel of St. Anne, and became a grammar-school on the suppression of the chantries by Henry VIII. The upper part of the building dates from 1450, but the crypt is much older, and it is conjectured to be a Saxon foundation. The beauty of these buildings—the church, the grammar-school, and the old houses—consists so greatly in their surroundings, in the green of the grass and the unfolding chestnut-trees against the old grey stone, the twinkle of blossom by the angle of a house, and the soft sky of Devon above, that it is difficult to reproduce; it is a beauty of atmosphere rather than of outline, of sentiment and association.
I like, too, this lack of the "picturesque cult" which one finds in these English towns; the beautiful is allowed always to be the useful, and the family washing hangs on a line outside many a Tudor house as easily as in a London slum. In Boutport Street—that old street that runs more than halfway round Barnstaple, "about the port"—stands the Golden Lion Hotel, which was formerly the town house of the Earl of Bath, and was enriched in the seventeenth century by most beautiful moulded plaster ceilings and fireplaces, made by Italian craftsman who were brought over from Italy. The front of the building has been altogether modernized, but much of the beautiful decorated interior work remains, to enrich the rooms where the many unseeing visitors take their meals. The Trevelyan Hotel, in the High Street, which presents to the street a most unpretentious exterior, and where, indeed, the principal rooms are the Victorian of Dickens, with ugly curtains and carpets, wall-papers and furniture, Victorian pictures, and Victorian bronzes on the coffee-room mantlepiece, has treasures hidden away up its dark staircases and in its cheaper and more modest bedrooms—defaced and disregarded, alas!—an Italian ceiling of fine scroll-work cut in half by a partition boarding, and a fine mantlepiece, with figures in relief, being built half over, and gas-jets thrust through the moulding. They showed me a great open hearth, with decorated mantle, which must have been that of the dining-room; at present the room is used for lumber. Half of it has been pulled down to build a staircase, and the low casement windows are blocked by a lean-to coalshed, making the room so dark that I could barely see the plaster modelling of the wall.
This, I confess, is a vandalism, but I still consider it as the necessary penalty we pay for not putting all the treasures of our past into museums, labelling them neatly—and never looking at them.
The Penrose Almshouses in Litchdon Street, a beautiful small quadrangle, with a low colonnade surmounted by an ornamented lead gutter and steep dormer windows in a red-tiled roof, are still kept to their old uses. They stand the wear and tear of time as well as its mellowing, and, like language, if they are here and there vulgarized by the usage of every day, without it they would be a dead language.
Queen Anne's Walk, overlooking the river, and close to the town station, is a small colonnade of the Renaissance style, which is most familiar to us in the architecture of Bath; it has an outlandish look, with its classical lines seen against the background of the smooth river and green Devonshire country, and has not the homely charm of Elizabethan or Stuart building.
It has, however, its peculiar beauty; it is suggestive of red-heeled shoes and powder, and an artificial world of beaux and belles. It must have been a pleasant enough place to walk in, until the railway came between it and the river, and its earlier name of the Merchants' Walk (or the Exchange) gives more of its character than its present name.
One must beware, however, in the present popular quest for the "antique," of overlooking the beauty of modern things; the market, for instance, which is a vast rectangular building standing on the High Street, has a strange and individual charm when you come into it out of the glare of the white street. The windows are fitted with light green glass, which gives a sort of ghostly twilight to its bare spaciousness, with heavy masses of gloom among the pillars of the flanking colonnade. It has no pretence to artistic ornament of any kind; it was built for a specific purpose, which it answers admirably, and when it is crowded with stalls on market-days, and noisy with buyers and sellers, it is a scene of bustle and movement which would arouse the enthusiasm of a traveller if he came upon it in some distant city of the East, though the difference of language and costume is all there is between the two. But when it is empty, with its bare walls and bare floor and high dark roof, sun and shadow make from it a beauty which it is worth a moment's pause and stepping aside to see.
The Athenaeum, also, which stands in the open space at the head of the Long Bridge, which is a noble structure of the thirteenth century, is a modern building, endowed by the late Mr. Rock, and possessing one of the best libraries in Devonshire. It is a plain, unpretentious building; on the ground-floor a geological museum, very useful for a student—for it contains a complete collection of Devonian rocks and fossils—and the library upstairs. Sitting there on a summer afternoon, and seeing through the open windows the smooth sunlit curve of the river below, and the gentle slope of wooded hills beyond, the Athenaeum has a charm—that charm of weather and daily custom—which architectural description fails to convey for any building, whether it is the Parthenon or a farm-house. Without it, places lack their intimate personality, as photographs lack the personality of men and women. My memory of the Athenaeum Library is of the familiar, slightly musty smell of books, of the faint creaking of the librarian's boots, and the hum of bees and the whirr of a mowing machine, of the smell of an early summer afternoon, the white glare of the North Walk stretching beside the river, and the reflection of anchored boats, very perfect on the still water.
Barnstaple is a very ancient borough; it is spoken of in the Devonshire Domesday as one of the four "burghs" of Devon, and as early as the reign of Henry I, before the election of Mayors had become part of English municipal life, it was entitled to elect a chief magistrate for its own government. It was a fortified place under the Saxon Kings, and a large grass-grown mound in the centre of the town (near the town station) marks the site of Athelstan's castle. Athelstan is supposed to have come to Barnstaple in the early tenth century, when he was engaged in driving the British out of Devonshire, beyond the River Tamar, which marks the boundary between Devon and Cornwall for the greater part; and this was only done by him, Westcote affirms, after he had exhausted every means of gentleness and clemency. The Taw, the Torridge, the Tamar, and the Tavy, all comprise some form of the same syllable, "Taw"; and "Tamar" is a corruption of "Taw-meer," which Westcote takes to mean the river-boundary, "Taw" occurring in the names of the four principal rivers "of these parts."
There was a Saxon church at Barnstaple, probably on the site of the present parish church of St. Peter's, and the tithes were given to the Abbey of Malmesbury. The original ecclesiastic seal bore the seated figure of King Athelstan. After the Conquest the barony of Barnstaple (which comprised the church) was given to Judhael of Totnes; from him it passed to the famous family of Tracy, from them to the Martins (whose name remains in the little village of Martinshoe, near Lynton), and from them, again, to the Audleys.
It was a Lord Audley who distinguished himself so greatly in the Battle of Poitiers, and, as his family were then in possession of Barnstaple, it appears that the town changed hands frequently in the first three hundred years after the Conquest. The story told of Lord Audley is that he had made a vow that he would strike the first stroke in a battle for Edward III or for his son, and that at Poitiers he fought with such desperate courage in the forefront of the battle that he was carried off the field severely wounded. After the battle the Black Prince inquired after him, and was told that he lay wounded in a litter. "Go and know if he may be brought hither, or else I will go and see him where he is," said the Prince; so Audley had his litter taken up by eight of his servants, who carried him to the Prince's tent. The Prince took him in his arms, and kissed him, and praised him for the best and most valiant Knight of all that had fought that day, nor, though the wounded Knight disclaimed it, would he admit of any refusal, but gave him a yearly grant of 500 marks out of his own inheritance. Lord Audley, being carried back to his own tent, summoned his four esquires and divided the gift among them. The Black Prince, presently hearing of this, had Sir James once more brought before him, and asked if he did not consider the gift worthy of his acceptance, or for what other reason he had so disposed of it.
"Sire," said the Knight, "these four esquires have a long time well and truly served me in many great dangers, and at this present especially, in such wise that, if they had never done anything else, I was bound unto them, and ere this time they had never anything of me in reward; and, Sire, you know I was but one man alone, but by the courage, aid, and comfort of them I took on me to accomplish my vow; and certainly I had been dead in the battle had they not holpen me and endured the brunt of the day. Wherefore, whenas nature and duty did oblige me to consider the love they bear me, I should have showed myself too much ungrateful if I had not rewarded them . . . but whereas I have done this without your licence, I humbly crave pardon. . . ."
The Black Prince once more embraced him, praised him for his generosity as much as for his valour, and granted him a further 600 marks in place of what he had given away.
I have transcribed this episode because it seems to me a pretty tale of chivalry, of valour and courtesy, of generosity and noble, if fantastic, ideals.
Under King Athelstan's rule Barnstaple was governed by two Bailiffs, "one for the King to collect his duties, the other for the town to receive their customs." Under Henry I it was granted a charter, which was confirmed by John and enlarged by Elizabeth.
The earliest industries of the town seem to have been pottery and weaving; the pottery has always been of the cheaper, coarser kind, and although some attempt was made at the close of the last century, when the industry was revived, to bring it to a higher artistic level of colour and glaze, it still, to my mind, continues mediocre, and has neither the highly finished beauty of such work as the Ruskin pottery, nor the genuinely simple lines or colouring of "peasant pottery," such as that from Quimperle in Brittany. The Barum ware has a sort of bourgeois mediocrity between these two different types, and there is room for a bold innovator to reform the present models and methods. It is a pity, perhaps, that he has not yet arisen, for a local industry of this kind adds greatly to the vitality of a town.
Of the weaving industry, what Westcote calls "lanificium," "the skill and knowledge of making cloth, under which genus are contained the species of spinning, knitting, weaving, tucking, pressing, dying, carding, combing and such-like," we have records from the twelfth century; though until the reign of Edward IV only friezes and plain coarse cloth were made. In Edward's reign an Italian, "Anthony Bonvise," is reputed to have taught Barnstaple the making of fine "kersies," and spinning with a distaff; doubtless this was looked upon by the older generation of conservatives as a deterioration to luxury and soft living; they would hark back to the standards of a simpler age, when a King's breeches cost him no more than three shillings, and "friezes" would be good enough for the noblest. For Robert of Gloucester, in his Chronicle, tells us of King William Rufus:
"As his chamberlain him brought, as he rose a day, A morrow for to wear, a pair hose of say, He asked what they costned; three shillings said the other. 'Fie, a devil,' quoth the King, 'who say so vile deed? King to wear any cloth, but it costned more: Buy a pair of a mark, or thou shalt be acorye sore.' A worse pair of ynou the other sith him brought, And said they were for a mark, and unnethe so he bought. 'Yea, bel ami,' quoth the King, 'they be well bought; In this way serve me, or thou ne shalt serve me not.'"
It was King Stephen, I believe,
"who was a luckless clown; His breeches cost him half a crown;"
but King Stephen had to contend with rebellion and civil war the whole of his unhappy reign, so doubtless popular sentiment would assign him a smaller share of the world's goods than King William Rufus.
In Westcote's time, in the early seventeenth century, the wool that was worked here in Devon was brought from all over England—Dorset, Gloucester, Wales, London, and also Ireland; and clothmaking had become so large an industry that agriculture had suffered considerably. "And every rumour of war or contagious sickness . . . makes a multitude of the poorer sort chargeable to their neighbours, who are bound to maintain them . . . the meanest sort of people also will now rather place their children to some of these mechanical trades than to husbandry, whereby husbandry-labourers are more scarce, and hirelings more dear than in former times."
This little passage in Westcote is, I think, of great interest, as showing the difficulties which had already arisen in the time of James I, with the extension of industry, which must always flourish at the expense of agriculture, and which seems to tend, nevertheless, both to personal and to national prosperity.
It is a problem for which we have not yet found a solution, and at the present time it comes before us with especial vividness and force. Westcote gives a list of the various fabrics that are made in Devon; some of them seem to be materials no longer in use, from the unfamiliarity of the names. Exeter manufactured serges, both fine and coarse; Crediton (the famous locality of the burning of Crediton Barns, in the Middle Ages) made kersies; and Totnes a stuff called "narrow pin-whites," which is, I believe, a coarse, loosely woven white material; Barnstaple and Torrington were noted for "bays," single and double (perhaps of the same texture as our modern baize), and for "frizados"; and Pilton, adjacent to Barnstaple, was notorious rather than celebrated for the making of cotton linings, so cheap and coarse a stuff that a popular "vae" or "woe" was locally pronounced against them. "Woe unto you, Piltonians, that make cloth without wool!"
It was in the woollen trade that the family of De Wichehalse, afterwards so intimately connected with Lynton, made the fortune that enabled them to become one of the leading houses of Barnstaple, and to acquire the beautiful estate near Lynton, which is now known as Lee Abbey. It may, perhaps, be of interest to the "curious-minded" to give an inventory of his shop, taken in 1607 at the death of Nicholas de Wichehalse, who had married Lettice, the daughter of the Mayor of Barnstaple.
The following are the chief items of the inventory, collected from manuscript records by Mr. Chanter for the Devonshire Association:
182 yds. of coloured bays at . . . . . . 1s. 4d. a yd. 49 " kersey at . . . . . . . . . . . 2s. 4d. " broadcloth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8s. 0d. " 147 yds. of coarse grey ffrize at . . . 11d. " buffyns in remnants (whatever they may be!) . . . . . . . . . . L1 9s. 4d. Also lace, silk, black velvet, broad taffeta, leaven taffeta . . . and 5 small boxes of marmalade.
Mr. Chanter conjectures that this last item is marmalade, and can read it as nothing else, though he was not aware that it was a preserve of Queen Elizabeth's time, nor why, even if it were, it should be in De Wichehalse's shop.
It was the prosperity of the De Wichehalses, the Salisburys, the Deamonds, and other enterprising merchants, which beautified the town with public buildings, almshouses, and their private residences—for the enrichment of which, as I have already stated, Italian workmen were brought over—and the seventeenth century was the time of the town's greatest importance and prosperity, when Barnstaple traded with Virginia and the West Indies, the Spaniards in South America and on the Continent. The Customs receipts show a very great import of tobacco, and there was a considerable manufacture of pipes, as a branch of local pottery. "The Exchange," or "the Merchants' Walk," as Queen Anne's Walk was then called, before it was rebuilt, must have witnessed the inception of many a venture, been paced by many an anxious foot when the weather was bad and the returning ship was long overdue, and seen many a bargain struck by richly dressed merchants, with pointed beards lying over their ruffs, gravely smoking their pipe of "Virginny" over the deal.
That picturesqueness of dress and custom has passed away, but Barnstaple is still a prosperous and pleasant city, lying on the sleek curve of the River Taw, and surrounded by low smooth hills. Seen from the opposite side of the river on a spring afternoon, from the steep road that leads to Bishop's Tawton over Codden Hill, it has a fair aspect. The tall modern Gothic tower of Holy Trinity stands out commandingly above the clustered roofs by the river, and beyond the town, which is small enough, seen from this height, to come within a single glance, lie the green and fertile fields, and gentle, wooded hills. The road to Bishop's Tawton—which was formerly an episcopal seat of the Bishops of Exeter—is a typical Devonshire road, steep and stony, with high green banks and hedges, which, on such an afternoon in spring, are starred with primroses and clumps of dog-violets, celandines and wild-anemones, and wonderfully green. It climbs from the London and South-Western Station, after crossing the great thirteenth-century bridge from the Square, and within a few minutes all signs of a town have dropped away, and we are in the country of fields and farms. In less than a mile, indeed, we come upon an old fortified farm; the massive whitewashed wall, three feet thick, rises steeply from the hilly road. At one corner a giant yew has thrust out part of the wall with its knotted roots, which are so huge that some recent owner of the farm has cut a little summer house out of them, with a thatched roof. The dwelling part of the farm faces this way, and, being built on the hillside above the road, I catch only a glimpse of steep gables and tall brick chimneys; but I looked in the open gateway of the cobbled yard, and saw the great thatched barns, and the massive white walls which surrounded them. The rear of the farm presented an almost blank surface, save for one small door, which was open, a sudden black oblong of shadow in the mellow whiteness. A cat sat cleaning itself in the mild sunshine; otherwise there was no life nor movement. It looked an enchanted place.
Farther on I came to a fork of the road, where a little stream ran swiftly past the thatched and whitewashed cottages, their tiny gardens profusely bright with flowers—hyacinths, daffodils, forget-me-nots, and the deep red of climbing japonica. In one of them an old woman in a pink sunbonnet was leaning on a stick gossiping with a neighbour, while two or three sunburned children with yellow hair were dabbling in a brook. It was idyllically and typically English, that ideal England of artists which is dreamed of and loved by the sons and daughters of the Colonies, who, thinking of "home" which they have never seen, think of such a scene of verdant and homely peace.
Just beyond was a great barrow, a steep green mound perhaps twenty feet high, with a little cottage beside it, and the small garden encroaching on its green sides. I asked a child what she knew about it, wondering if some local legend still lingered round the spot; but she told me "they had dug a pond, beyond there, and this was the earth they had thrown up." I did not explain to her the unlikeliness of such a heavy undertaking, with a clear stream running by, but went on, wondering what British chieftain or maraudering Dane lay buried under that great mound, awaiting the last trump.
Bishop's Tawton is said to have been the seat of the Saxon Bishops of Devon, established here in the tenth century; a farm now occupies the site of the old episcopal palace, but the church is Perpendicular, and the only Saxon remains I could discover was the base of a stone Saxon cross in the churchyard. On the opposite bank of the river is Tawstock church, standing in the grounds of Sir Bourchier Wrey, and close to his house. The church is built on rising ground, and set round by trees in which rooks have built; clamorous and noisy, they fly round and round the old grey tower morning and evening. When the October gales are tossing the trees, and the rain-clouds are gathering on the hills their cawing has a sound of ill-omen, which makes them seem the unresting and malignant spirits of those fierce lords of the Dark Ages, evil-doers and unrepentant.
From Barnstaple to Lynton there are several methods of travel. Either one may take train to Ilfracombe, and there take coach, following the coast-road through Watermouth, Lydford, Combe Martin, Trentishoe, and the Hunter's Inn, twenty miles of the most magnificent coast scenery in England; or, if one has the courage to take pack on back, one may walk it, past Watermouth Castle, and the tiny land-locked harbour beneath, which was said by Kingsley to be the safest harbour on this coast, smooth and sheltered always, however high the seas are running outside; past the tiny village of Lydford, which bears the same name and reminds one of the seventeenth-century poem of "Lydford Law," though the poem was written of the town on the Lyd, near Tavistock. But here are a couple of verses:
"Oft have I heard of Lydford law, How in the morn they hang and draw, And sit in judgment after. At first I wondered at it much, But since I find the matter such As it deserves no laughter.
"They have a castle on a hill; I took it for some old wind-mill The vanes blown off by weather. To lie therein one night 'tis guessed 'Twere better to be stoned or pressed Or hanged, ere you come thither."
"Lydford law" and "Jedburgh justice" seem equally to have been synonyms for arbitrary and summary punishment.
But, leaving this digression, we proceed on our way, past Berrynarbor and the old farm of Bowden, where Bishop Jewel was born, and the beautiful church where he was baptized, with its great Perpendicular tower, built of red and grey sandstone, rising above the wooded combe, and its old lich-gate, set in the thickness of the churchyard wall, and almost hidden by the luxuriant summer foliage; past Combe Martin, famous for its ancient silver-mines rather than its beauty, yet with a very beautiful church, with a Perpendicular tower even higher than that of Berrynarbor, soaring above the sheltering elms, and throwing its long shadow across the stream which curves round the church-yard among the old yew-bushes—a church worth stepping aside to see, with a fine carved oak screen in the interior, of the fifteenth century, the doors of the screen made in such a way that they will not entirely close, in order to show plainly forth to all sinners that the gates of heaven are always open; past Martinhoe village, which was the scene of one of the most cruel and cold-blooded of all the Doone murders, when they carried off the wife of Christopher Badcock, a small tenant farmer, and, in rage at finding nothing in the poor home but a little bacon and cheese, murdered her baby in a fit of senseless brutality, reciting over it this couplet: