Highways and Byways in Sussex/Chapter 4
William Collins—The Smiths of Chichester—Hardham's snuff—C. R. Leslie's reminiscence—The headless Ravenswood—Chichester Cathedral—Roman Chichester—Mr. Spershott's recollections—A warning to swearers—The prettiest alms-house in England.
I have already quoted some lines by Collins on Otway; it is time to come to Collins himself.
When Music, heavenly maid, was young,
While yet in early Greece she sung,
The Passions oft, to hear her shell,
Throng'd around her magic cell—
The perfect ode which opens with these unforgettable lines belongs to Chichester, for William Collins was born there on Christmas Day, 1721, and educated there, at the Prebendal school, until he went to Winchester. William Collins was the son of the Mayor of Chichester, a hatter, from whom Pope's friend Caryll bought his hats. I have no wish to tell here the sad story of Collins' life; it is better to remember that few as are his odes they are all of gold. He died at Chichester in 1759, and was buried in St. Andrew's Church.
With eyes up-raised, as one inspired,
Pale Melancholy sat retired;
And, from her wild sequester'd seat,
In notes by distance made more sweet,
Pour'd through the mellow horn her pensive soul:
And, dashing soft from rocks around
Bubbling runnels join'd the sound;
Through glades and glooms the mingled measure stole,
Or, o'er some haunted stream, with fond delay,
Round an holy calm diffusing,
Love of peace, and lonely musing,
In hollow murmurs died away.
Collins is Chichester's great poet. She had a very agreeable minor poet, too, in George Smith, one of the Three Smiths—all artists: William, born in 1707, painter of portraits and of fruit and flower pieces, and George and John, born in 1713 and 1717, who painted landscapes,—known collectively as the Smiths of Chichester. I mention them rather on account of George Smith's poetical experiments than for the brothers' fame as artists; but there is such a pleasant flavour in one at least of his Pastorals that I have copied a portion of it. It is called "The Country Lovers; or, Isaac and Marget going to Town on a Summer's Morning." The town is probably Chichester—certainly one in Sussex and near the Downs. Isaac speaks first:—
Come! Marget, come!—the team is at the gate!
Not ready yet!—you always make me wait!
I omit a certain amount of the dialogue which follows, but at last Marget exclaims:—
Well, now I'm ready, long I have not staid.
One kiss before we go, my pretty maid.
Go! don't be foolish, Isaac—get away!
Who loiters now?—I thought I could not stay!
There!—that's enough! why, Isaac, sure you're mad!
One more, my dearest girl—
Be quiet, lad.
See both my cap and hair are rumpled o'er!
The tying of my beads is got before!
The pretty poem ends with fervid protestations of devotion from Isaac:—
For thee the press with apple-juice shall foam!
Another of Chichester's illustrious sons is Archbishop Juxon, who stood by the side of Charles I. on the scaffold and bade farewell to him in the words "You are exchanging from a temporal to an eternal crown—a good exchange."
Yet another, of a very different type, is John Hardham. "When they talked of their Raphaels, Correggios, and stuff," wrote Goldsmith of Sir Joshua Reynolds,
He shifted his trumpet, and only took snuff.
A name is all. From Garrick's breath a puff
The wealth that came to the tobacconist he left to the city of Chichester to relieve it of certain of its poor rates; and the citizens still magnify Hardham's name. He died in 1772 and had the good sense to restrict the expense of his funeral to ten pounds.
Chichester was the scene of a pleasant incident recorded by Leslie in his Autobiographical Recollections. He was staying with Wilkie at Petworth, the guest of their patron, and the patron of so many other painters, Lord Egremont, of whom we shall learn more when Petworth is reached. They all drove over to Chichester after a visit to Goodwood. Lord Egremont, says Leslie, "had some business to transact at Chichester; but one of his objects was to show us a young girl, the daughter of an upholsterer, who was devoted to painting, and considered to be a genius by her friends. She was not at home; but her mother said she could soon be found, 'if his lordship would have the goodness to wait a short time.' The young lady soon appeared, breathless and exhausted with running. Lord Egremont mentioned our names, and she said, looking up to Wilkie with an expression of great respect, 'Oh, sir! it was but yesterday I had your head in my hands.' This puzzled him, as he did not know she was a phrenologist.
"'And what bumps did you find?' said Lord Egremont.
"'The organ of veneration, very large,' was her answer; and Wilkie, making her a profound bow, said:
"'Madam, I have a great veneration for genius.'
"She showed us an unfinished picture from The Bride of Lammermoor. The figure of Lucy Ashton was completed, and, she told us, was the portrait of a young friend of hers; but Ravenswood was without a head, and this she explained by saying, 'there are no handsome men in Chichester. But,' she continued, her countenance brightening, 'the Tenth are expected here soon.'" (The Tenth was noted for its handsome officers.)
Leslie does not carry the story farther. Whether poor Ravenswood ever gained his head; whether if he did so it was a military one, or, as a last resource, a Chichester one; and where the picture, if completed, now is, I do not know, nor have I succeeded in discovering any more of the young lady. But passing through the streets of the town I was conscious of the absence of the Tenth.
Chichester is a perfect example of an English rural capital, thronged on market days with tilt carts, each bringing a farmer or farmer's wife, and rich in those well-stored ironmongers' shops that one never sees elsewhere. But it is more than this: it is also a cathedral town, with the ever present sense of domination by the cloth even when the cloth is not visible. Chichester has its roughs and its public houses (Mr. Hudson in his Nature in Downland gives them a caustic chapter); it also has its race-week every July, and barracks within hail; yet it is always a cathedral town. Whatever noise may be in the air you know in your heart that quietude is its true characteristic. One might say that above the loudest street cries you are continually conscious of the silence of the close.
Chichester's cathedral is not among the most beautiful or the most interesting, but there is none cooler. It dates from the eleventh century and contains specimens of almost every kind of church architecture; but the spire is comparatively new, having been built in 1866 to take the place of its predecessor, which suddenly dropped like an extinguisher five years before. Seen from the Channel it rises, a friendly landmark (white or gray, according to the clouds), and while walking on the Downs above or on the plain around, one is frequently pleased to catch an unexpected glimpse of its tapering beauty. I have heard it said that Chichester is the only English cathedral that is visible at sea.
Within, the cathedral is disappointing, offering one neither richness on the one hand nor the charm of pure severity on the other. A cathedral must either be plain or coloured, and Chichester comes short of both ideals; it has no colour and no purity. Its proportions are, however, exquisite, and it is impossible to remain here long without passing under the spell of the stone. Yet had it, one feels, only radiance, how much finer it would be.
For the completest contrast to the vastness of the cathedral one may cross into North Street and enter the portal of the toy church of St. Olave, which dates from the 14th century, and is remarkable, not only for its minuteness, but as being one of the churches of Chichester which, in my experience, is not normally locked and barred.
That Chichester was built by the Romans in the geometrical Roman way you may see as you look down from the Bell Tower upon its four main streets—north, south, east and west—east becoming Stane-street and running direct to London. Chichester then was Regnum. On the departure of the Romans, Cissa, son of Ella, took possession, and the name was changed to Cissa's Ceastre, hence Chichester. Remnants of the old walls still stand; and a path has been made on the portion running from North Street down to West Gate.More attractive, because more human, than the cathedral itself are its precincts: the long resounding cloisters, the still, discreet lanes populous with clerics, and most of all that little terrace of ecclesiastical residences parallel with South Street, in the shadow of the mighty fane, covered with creeping greenness, from wistaria to ampelopsis, with minute windows,
inviolable front doors and trim front gardens, which (like all similar settlements) remind one of alms-houses carried out to the highest power. Surely the best of places in which to edit Horace afresh or find new meanings in St. Augustine.
There is a tendency for the cathedral to absorb all the attention of the traveller, but Chichester has other beauties, including the Market Cross, which is a mere child of stone, dating only from the reign of Henry VIII.; St. Mary's Hospital in North Street; and the remains of the monastery of the Grey Friars in the Priory Park. Young Chichester now plays cricket where of old the monks caught fish and performed their duties. It was probably on the mound that their Calvary stood; the last time I climbed it was to watch Bonnor, the Australian giant, practising in the nets below, too many years ago.
Like all cathedral towns Chichester has beautiful gardens, as one may see from the campanile. There are no lawns like the lawns of Bishops, Deans, and Colleges; and few flower beds more luxuriantly stocked. Chichester also has a number of grave, solid houses, such as Miss Austen's characters might have lived in; at least one superb specimen of the art of Sir Christopher Wren, a masterpiece of substantial red brick; and a noble inn, the Dolphin, where one dines in the Assembly room, a relic of the good times before inns became hotels.
We have some glimpses of old Chichester in the reminiscences (about 1720-1730) of James Spershott, a Chichester Baptist Elder, who died in 1789, aged eighty. I quote a passage here and there from his paper of recollections printed in the Sussex Archæological Collections:—
"Spinning of Household Linnen was in use in most Families, also making their own Bread, and likewise their own Household Physick. No Tea, but much Industrey and good Cheer. The Bacon racks were loaded with Bacon, for little Porke was made in these times. The farmers' Wifes and Daughters were plain in Dress, and made no such gay figures in our Market as nowadays. At Christmas, the whole Constellation of Pattypans which adorn'd their Chimney fronts were taken down. The Spit, the Pot, the Oven, were all in use together; the Evenings spent in Jollity, and their Glass Guns smoking Top'd the Tumbler with the froth of Good October, till most of them were slain or wounded, and the Prince of Orange, and Queen Ann's Marlborough, could no longer be resounded. . . ."Here is Mr. Spershott's account of a Chichester calamity:—"Jno. Page, Esq., native of this city, coming from London to Stand Candidate Here, a great number of voters went on Horseback to meet him. Among the rest Mr. Joshua Lover, a noted School Master, a sober man in the general but of flighty Passions. As he was setting out, one of his Scollers, Patty Smith (afterwards my Spouse) asked him for a Coppy, and in haste he wrote the following:—
Extreames beget Extreames, Extreames avoid Extreames without Extreames are not Enjoyed.
"He set off in High Carrier, and turning down Rooks's Hill before the Sqr., rideing like a madman To and fro, forward and backward Hallooing among the Company, the Horse at full speed fell with him and kill'd him. A Caution to the flighty and unsteady; and a verification of his Coppy." Again: "Robt. Madlock, a most Prophane Swarer, being Employ'd in Cleaning the outside of the Steeple," fell, owing to a breaking rope, and soon after died. Mr. Spershott adds: "A warning to Swarers." Another entry states: "In my younger years there were many very large corpulent Persons in the City, both of Men and Women. I could now recite by name between twenty and thirty, the great part of that number so Prodigious that like other animals Thoroughly fatted, they could hardly move about."One of Chichester's epitaphs runs thus:—
Here lies a true soldier, whom all must applaud; Much hardship he suffer'd at home and abroad; But the hardest engagement he ever was in, Was the battle of Self in the conquest of Sin.
I have left until the last the prettiest thing in this city of comely streets and houses—St. Mary's Hospital, at the end of Lion Street (out of North Street): the quaintest almshouse in the world. The building stands back, behind the ordinary houses, and is gained by a passage and a courtyard. You then enter what seems to be a church, for at the far end is an altar beneath an unmistakably ecclesiastical window. But when the first feeling of surprise has passed, you discover that there is only a small chancel at the east end of the building, on either side of which are little dwellings. Each of these is occupied by a nice little old woman, who has two rooms, very minute and cosy, with a little supply of faggots close at hand, and all the dignity of a householder, although the occupant only of an infinitesimal toy house within a house. How do they agree, one wonders, these little old ladies of a touchy age under their great roof?
Different accounts are given of the origin of St. Mary's Hospital. Mr. Lower says that it was founded in 1229 for a chaplain and thirteen bedesmen. In 1562 a warden and five inmates were the prescribed occupants. Now there are eight sets of rooms, each with its demure tenant, all of whom troop into the little chapel at fixed hours. Mrs. Evans, sacristan, who does the honours, would tell me nothing as to the process of selection by which she and the seven other occupants came to be living there; all that she could say was that she was very happy to be a Hospitaller, and that by no possibility could one of the little domiciles ever fall to me.