Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home/Place III

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We have passed a pleasant rainy day at Ventnor. The Halls are here too, and we make frequent use of the piazza by which our parlours communicate; so our friendship ripens apace. We went, in spite of mist and runs, to pay another visit to Bon Church, to "get it by heart," Captain H. says; "into our hearts we certainly have got it, and taken a drenching into the bargain." But this was a cheap price to pay for the view we had, when, just at the summit of the hill, the mist rolled off like the furling of a sail, and we saw the village of Shanklin (the gem!), with its ivied walls, its roses, its everything that flowers, broad fields of corn, and the steep cliffs down to Shanklin Chine. Shall I ever forget the little in and out cottages jutted against the rocks, the narrow lanes that afford yon glimpses, through green and flowery walls, of these picture-dwellings?

As we strolled down the road from Boa Church I stopped at a cottage inhabited by very poor people. There were four distinct homes under one roof, and an enclosed strip of ground in front, four feet wide. This space was full of verbenas, stocks, roses, and geraniums; and an old crone between eighty and ninety was tending them. I thought of the scrawny lilacs and woody rosebushes in some of our courtyards, and blushed, or, rather, I shall blush if ever I see an English eye upon them; for (shame to us!) it is the detection, and not the sin, that calls up the blush.

Our first stop after leaving Ventnor was at St Lawrence's Church, the smallest in England; you shall have its dimensions from some poetry we bought of the beadle, his own manufacture.

"This church has often drawn the curious eye
To see its length and breadth—to see how high.
At length to measure it was my intent,
That I might verify its full extent,

Its breath from side to side above the bench
Is just eleven feet and half an inch.
The height, from pavement to ceiling mortar,
Eleven feet, five inches and a quarter.
And its length, from east to west end,
Twenty-five feet four inches, quarter three,
Is just its measurement, as you may see."

The poet-beadle's brains, you may think, were graduated by the same scale as St. Lawrence's Church. However, I assure you he was quite the beau-ideal of an old beadle, and he did his ciceroni work well, showing us where his lordship sat (Lord Yarborough, in whose gift is the rectorship), and where sat the butler, and my lady's maid, and the parish officers. All these privileged people, who dwell in the atmosphere of nobility, had, to the old beadle's senses, something sweeter than the odour of sanctity. For the rest of St Lawrence's audience, I fear they do not fare as well as the people in Doctor Franklin's dream, who, upon confessing to St Peter at the gate of Heaven that they were neither Baptists nor Methodists, nor of any particular sect, were bidden come in and take the best seats they could find!

Among the epitaphs I read on the mouldering stones in St. Lawrence's churchyard, was one that pleased me for its quaint old ballad style. It was a husband's on his wife, beginning

"Meek and gentle were her spirit,
Prudence did her life adorn,
Modest, she disclaimed all merit,
Tell me, am not I forlorn?"

I would not like to make too nice an inquisition as to how long he remained so!"[1]

  1. The following epitaph amused me: so like our own Puritan elegiac poetry.

    "To the memory of Charles Dixon, Smith and Farrier.

    "My sledge and hammer lie reclined,
    My bellows too have lost their wind,
    My fire's extinct, my forge decay'd,
    My vice all in the dust is laid;
    My coal is spent, my iron gone,
    My last nail's driven—my work is done!"