Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home/Place IV
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Place IV. Brixton
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We went down to the beach for a good view of Black Gang Chine, a wild, grand-looking place, with masses of sandstone of different strata, variously coloured, and rising to an elevation of some three hundred feet above the sea. Here Captain Hall, with his happy young people, again joined us, to part again immediately; they to walk to Chale, and we to rejoin R. at the inn, where, for walking into the house and out of it, we paid a fee to a waiter of an aged and venerable aspect, accurately dressed in a full suit of black, and looking much like one of our ancient Puritan divines setting off for an "association."
As we approached Brixton, the girls and myself alighted to walk, that we aught see this enchanting country more at leisure. I cannot give you an idea of the deliciousness of a walk here between the lovely hedges all fragrance, the air filled with the melody of birds, and the booming of the ocean waves for a bass. For one sweet singing-bird with us, I think there are twenty here; and, included in this twenty, the nightingale, the blackbird, the lark, and the cuckoo! The note of the English blackbird is electrifying, but yet I have heard none sweeter than our woodthrush, that little hermit of our solitudes. You would forgive me, dear C., for observing some contrasts that may perchance strike you as unpatriotic, if,
I could send over to you one of these picturesque cottages (any one of them), draped with ivy to the very top of the chimneys, and set it down beside our unsightly farmhouses.
At Brixton we again met Captain Hall. He had had the disappointment of finding that his friend, Mr. Wilberforce, was absent; and intent on filling for us every little vacant niche with some pleasure, he had asked leave to show us a picture of the father in the son's library. H., in the effectiveness of his kindness, reminds me of L. M., and seems to me what our Shaker friends would call the "male manifestation" of her ever-watchful and all-accomplishing spirit.We met two of the young Wilberforces, and begged the pleasure of taking hands with them for their grandfather's sake. The boy bears a strong resemblance to him, and is, I hope, like his grandfather, sent into the world on an errand of mercy. Such a face is the superscription, by the finger of God, of a soul of benevolence.
The widow of Wilberforce was sitting in the library. She received us courteously. She has a dignified demeanour, and a very sweet countenance, on which I fancied I could see the record of a happy life and many a good deed done. If living in a healthy air produces the signs of health, why should not living one's whole life in an atmosphere of benevolence, bring out into the expression the tokens of a healthy soul?
We walked over the grounds of the rectory. Have you a very definite idea of an English lawn? The grass is shaven every week; this, of course, produces a fresh bright tint, and to your tread it feels like the richer bed of moss you ever set your foot upon. I fear we never can have the abundance and variety of flowers they have here. I see continually, plants which remain in the open ground all winter, that we are obliged to house by the first of October. There was a myrtle reaching the second-story windows of Mr. Wilberforce's house.
In my strolls I avail myself of every opportunity of accosting the people, and when I can find any pretext I go into the cottages by the wayside. This, I suppose, is very un-English, and may seem to some persons very impertinent But I have never found inquiries, softened with a certain tone of sympathy, repulsed. Your inferiors in condition are much like children, and they, you know, like dogs, are proverbially said to know who loves them, I stopped at a little cottage this morning, half smothered with roses, geraniums, &c, and, on the pretext of looking at a baby, made good my entrance. The little bit of an apartment, not more than six feet by ten, was as neat as possible. Not an article of its scanty furniture looked as if it bad been bought by this generation; everything appeared cared for, and well preserved; so unlike corresponding dwellings with us. The woman had nine children; six at home, and all tidily dressed. I have not seen in England a slovenly-looking person. Even the three or four beggars who stealthily asked charity of us at Portsmouth were neatly dressed.
I greeted, en passant, a woman sitting at her cottage window. She told me she paid for half of a little tenement and a bit of a garden, ten pounds (fifty dollars) rent. And when I congratulated her on the pleasant country, "Ah," she said, "we can't live on a pleasant country!" I have not addressed one of these people who has not complained of poverty, said something of the difficulty of getting work, of the struggling of bread, which is the condition of existence among the lower classes here. Strange sounds these to our ears!
I was amused to-day with something that marked the diversity of the condition from ours in another way. I accosted a little girl who stood at a cottage-gate. She was as well dressed as S.'s girls, or any of our well-to-do-in-the-world people. Among other impertinent questions I asked "Who lives here?" "Mrs. So-and-so and Mrs. So-and-so." "Only two ladies." I exclaimed, conforming my phrase to the taste of our cottage-dames. "They ben't ladies," she replied. "Indeed! what are they?" "They be's woman's." Would such a disclaimer bare been put in from one end of the United States to the other, unless in the shanty of adopted citizens?I will spare you all the particulars of my wayside acquaintance with a sturdy little woman whom I met coming out of a farmyard, staggering under a load of dry furze, as much as could be piled on a wheelbarrow. A boy not more than five years old was awaiting her at the gate, with a compact little parcel in his arms snugly done up. "Now take she," he said, extending it to the mother, and I found the parcel was a baby not a month old; so I offered to carry it, and did for a quarter of a mile, while the mother, in return, told me the whole story of her courtship, marriage, and maternity, with the fast incident in her domestic annals, the acquisition of a baking of meal, some barm, and the loan of her husband's mother's oven, and, lastly, of the gift of the furze to heat the oven. The woman seemed something more than contented—happy. I could not but congratulate her. "It does not signify," I said, "being poor when one is so healthy and so merry as you appear." "Ah, that's natural to me," she replied; "my mother had red cheeks in her coffin!" Happy are those who bare that "natural to them," that princes, and fine ladies, and half the world are sighing for and running after.
The last part of our drive to Fresh-water Bay was through a highly-cultivated district; the country had lost its romantic charm; to the very seashore on both sides of us was covered with barley, pease, and the finest of wheat. Save a glimpse of the sea in the distance, the hold headland of Black Gang Chine, and the downs before us, it was as tame as a cosset lamb. And, by-the-way, speaking of lambs and such fancy articles, immense flocks of sheep are grazing on these downs, and each is as big as three of our Merinos, and the mutton is delicious.