Page:Highways and Byways in Sussex.djvu/199

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XVII
171
DR. JOHNSON IN THE SEA

One ought to mention Pitt's visit to Brighton, in 1785, as an historical event, if only for the proof which it offers that Sussex folk have an effective if not nimble wit. I use Mr. Bishop's words: "Pitt during his journey to Brighton, in the previous week, had some experience of popular feeling in respect of the obnoxious Window Tax. Whilst horses were being changed at Horsham, he ordered lights for his carriage; and the persons assembled, learning who was within, indulged pretty freely in ironical remarks on light and darkness. The only effect upon the Minister was, that he often laughed heartily. Whilst in Brighton, a country glove-maker hung about the door of his house on the Steyne; and when the Minister came out, showed him a hedger's cuff, which he held in one hand, and a bush in the other, to explain the use of it, and asked him if the former, being an article he made and sold, was subject to a Stamp Duty? Mr. Pitt appeared rather struck with the oddity and bluntness of the man's question, and, mounting his horse, waived a satisfactory answer by referring him to the Stamp Office for information."

Brighton's place in literature makes up for her historical poverty. Dr. Johnson was the first great man of letters to visit the town. He stayed in West Street with the Thrales, rode on the Downs and, after his wont, abused their bareness, making a joke about our dearth of trees similar to one on the same topic in Scotland. The Doctor also bathed. Mrs. Piozzi relates that one of the bathing men, seeing him swim, remarked, "Why, sir, you must have been a stout-hearted gentleman forty years ago!"—much to the Doctor's satisfaction.

It was, I always think, in Hampton Place that Mrs. Pipchin, whose husband broke his heart in the Peruvian mines, kept her establishment for children and did her best to discourage Paul Dombey. How does the description run?

This celebrated Mrs. Pipchin was a marvellous ill-favoured, ill-conditioned old lady, of a stooping figure, with a mottled face, like bad marble, a hook nose, and a hard grey eye, that looked as if it might have been