Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home/Place II
Isle of Wight, June 6. Our transit from Portsmouth in the admiral's yacht was delightful. At the little town of Ryde we engaged two vehicles called flies, small covered carriages, each holding comfortably three persons, with two "intilligent lads" (as the proprietor of the equipages assured us) for drivers. François has a seat on the box, and we have sent our luggage to London, so that we are as unencumhered as if we were out for an afternoon's drive.
And here I am tempted to throw away my pen. It is in vain to' attempt to convey to you our impressions of this lovely island, or to return them myself by this poor record. Call it Eden; call it paradise; and, after all, what conceptions have we of those Terræ Incognitæ? The Isle of Wight, they tell us, is a miniature of England. It has the exquisite delicacy and perfection of a miniature by a master band. I am resolved to be as virtuously abstemious as possible on the subject of scenery; but you must be patient, and bethink yourself, my dear C., that it is not possible to be silent on what makes up so large a portion of a traveller's existence and happiness. When we had ascended the hill from Ryde and turned off into a green lane, we might have been mistaken for maniacs escaped from Bedlam, or rather, I think, for children going home for a holyday. We were thrusting our heads out of our little carriages, shouting from one to the other, and clapping our hands. And why these clamorous demonstrations? We had just escaped from shipboard, remember; were on the solid green earth, driving through narrow winding avenues, with sloping hills and lofty trees on each side of us, often interlacing over our heads (the trees.I mean!), every inch of ground cultivated and divided by dark hedges filled with flowering shrubs, and sprinkled with thatched and mossy cottages—such as we have only seen in pictures—and the Solent Sea sparkling in the distance.
Our first halt was at Brading Church. Blessed are those who make the scene of their labours fit shrines for the homage of the traveller's heart. So did Leigh Richmond. A troop of children (twelve we counted) ran out to open the gate of the churchyard for us. One pointed out the "young cottager's" grave; another was eager to prove she could repeat glibly the epitaphs "little Jane" had recited. They showed us Brading Church (built in the seventh century) and Richmond's house, and the trees under which he taught. We gathered some holly leaves from the tree that shades his courtyard, which we shall devoutly preserve to show you. We might have remained there till this time if our curiosity had equalled the resources of our "train attendant." It is quite a new sight to us to see children getting their living in this way. We have little to show, and the traveller must grope his way as well as he can to that little. These children with us would have been at school or at the plough, looking to a college education in their perspective, or a "farm in the West:" something better than a few chance pennies from a traveller. But though there are few prizes for them in the lottery of life here, I was glad to see them looking comfortability clad, well fed, and healthy.
We diverged at the beautiful village of Shanklin, and walked to Shanklin Chine a curious fissure, worn, I believe, in the hills by a rivulet. The place is as wild as our ice-glen; and the rocks, instead of being overgrown with palmy ferns, maiden's hair, and lichens, like ours, are fringed with sweet pease, wallfowers, stocks, hyacinths, and all growing at their own sweet will; this betokens an old neighbourhood of civilization.
A woman came forth from a cottage to unlock a gate through which we must pass to go up the Chine. K. says the beauties of Nature are as jealously locked up here as the beauties of a harem. It is the old truth, necessity teaches economy; whatever can be made a source of revenue is so made, and the old women and children are tax-gatherers. At every step some new object or usage starts up before us; and it strikes us the more because the people are speaking our own language, and are essentially like our own.
In the narrowest part of our pathway, where the rill had become a mere thread, we had the pleasure of encountering the Halls. They were walking to Bon Church. We asked leave to join them. You may fancy what a delightful stroll we had with this very pleasant meeting, and such accidental accessories to the lovely scenery as a ship in the distance, a rainbow dropping into the sea, and the notes of a cuckoo, the first I had ever heard. History, painting, poetry, are at every moment becoming real, actual.
Bon Church, at a short distance from the road, secluded from it by an interposing elevation, enclosed by a stone wall, and surrounded by fine old trees, their bark coated with moss, is, to a New-World eye, a picture "come to life." "Sixteen hundred and sixteen" said I to L., deciphering a date on a monument; "four years before there were any white inhabitants in Massachusetts." "Then," she replied, "this is an Indian's grave." Her eyes were bent on the ground. She was in her own land; she looked up and saw the old arched and ivied gateway, and smiled—the illusion had vanished.
- Chine is a Hampshire word for a cleft in the rocks.