Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home/Place V

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We are at an inn within a few yards of the beach, with a shore of chalky cliffs, and a pretty arch in the rocks worn by the water, and a jutting point before us called the Stag, from a fanciful resemblance, as I conjecture, to that animal boldly leaping into the waves. The Halls are here, and in a stroll with them last evening over the cliffs we encountered a man who lives, "not by gathering samphire" (which, by-the-way, we did gather), but by getting the eggs of seafowl that resort here in immense flocks, flattering themselves, no doubt, in their bliss of ignorance, that the cliffs are inaccessible.[1] Our egg-hunter had been successful, and had a sack of eggs hanging before him. He pays two guineas a year to the lord of the manor for the privilege of getting them, and sells them, he says, "to people in a decline." One lady, he told us, had paid him a shilling apiece. "She," replied Captain H., with a lurking smile, "must have been far gone in a decline, I think." The man told us they had the art of emptying the eggshell by perforating it with two pinholes, and blowing out the contents; whereupon the captain, who leaves nothing unessayed, amid his children's merry shouts and ours, fairly rivalled the professes at his own art.

Sunday.—We have been to church for the first time in England. It was an old Gothic edifice. I thought of our forefathers with tenderness and with reverence. Brave men they were to leave these venerable sanctuaries, to go over the ocean—to "the depth of the desert's gloom."

It was a curious coincidence enough, that the first preacher we hear this side the water bears our own name. This it was, no doubt, that set my mind to running upon relationships and forefathers. Mr. S. is a poor curate, who, after twenty years' service, is compelled to leave his place here by the new order of things, which obliges his superior to do his own work. One feels a little distrustful of those reforms that destroy individual happiness and snap asunder old ties.

Monday.—We drove this morning to Carisbrooke Castle, an old ruin in the heart of the island. We were shown the window through which Charles I., when imprisoned here, attempted to escape. In spite of getting my first historical impressions from Hume, that lover of kings and supreme lover of the Stuarts, I never had much sympathy with this king of bad faith; still it is not easy to stand at this window without a sorrowful sympathy with Charles. There he stood, looking on the land that seemed to him his inheritance by a Divine charter, longing for the wings of the birds that were singing round this window, to hear him to those friends who were awaiting him, and, instead of him, had only the signal which he hung out of this window to give them notice of the defeat of his project.

Nothing, I know, is more tiresome than the description of old castles which you get from such raw tourists as we are, and may find in every guidebook; hut I wish I could do up my sensations and send them to you. As we passed the Elizabethan gate, and wound away up into the old keep, stopping, now and then, to look through the openings left for the exercise of the cross-bow, or as we wandered about the walls, and stood to hear the pebble descend into Carisbrooke well,[2] I felt as if old legends had become incorporate.

We expect nothing pleasanter than the week we have spent on the Isle of Wight. How much of our enthusiasm it may owe to our coming to it from shipboard, and to the fresh impressions of the Old World, of its thatched cottages, ivied walls, old churches and churchyards, and English cultivation, I cannot say. The English speak of it as all "in little," a cockney affair, &c.; but, if small, it has the delicacy and perfection of a cabinet picture.

  1. They are of very difficult access, as we were assured by seeing the process of letting the man down and sustaining him on the perpendicular cliff; but nothing seems impossible to men who must die or struggle for their bread. The man was stout and very well looking, but with and anxious and sad expression. I found he had a large family to feed, and among them four stalwart boys. I asked him what were their prospects. "None," he said, with an expression suited to the words, "but starvation."
  2. The well is 200 feet in depth, 25 of masonry, and the rest cut through a solid rock.