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Title: Isle of Wight
Author: Moncrieff, A. R. Hope (Ascott Robert Hope)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Isle of Wight" ***

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produced from images available at The Internet Archive)



                      [Illustration: THE NEEDLES]



                             ISLE OF WIGHT

                              PAINTED BY

                           A. HEATON COOPER

                             DESCRIBED BY

                         A. R. HOPE MONCRIEFF

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                                LONDON

                        ADAM AND CHARLES BLACK

                                 1908



Contents


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

   I. THE ISLAND                                                       1

  II. RYDE                                                            19

 III. NEWPORT                                                         33

  IV. THE EAST SIDE                                                   54

   V. THE UNDERCLIFF                                                  77

  VI. THE BACK OF THE ISLAND                                          92

 VII. FRESHWATER AND THE NEEDLES                                     104

VIII. YARMOUTH                                                       119

  IX. COWES                                                          139

   X. THE GATES OF THE ISLAND                                        154



List of Illustrations


1. The Needles                                             _Frontispiece_

                                                             FACING PAGE

2. Ryde--Moonrise                                                     20

3. Newchurch--the Mother Church of Ryde                               24

4. Newport                                                            34

5. Carisbrooke Castle                                                 40

6. Godshill                                                           50

7. Water Meadows of the Yar near Alverstone                           58

8. Sandown Bay                                                        60

9. Shanklin Village--Moonlight after rain                             72

10. Shanklin Chine                                                    74

11. Bonchurch Old Church near Ventnor                                 84

12. The Landslip near Ventnor                                         86

13. The Undercliff near Ventnor                                       90

14. Blackgang Chine                                                   96

15. Shorwell                                                         100

16. Farringford House                                                106

17. Freshwater Bay                                                   112

18. Totland Bay                                                      118

19. Yarmouth                                                         120

20. Shalfleet                                                        124

21. Calbourne                                                        138

22. Yachting at Cowes                                                144

23. Osborne House                                                    148

24. Whippingham Church                                               152

_Map at end of volume_



ISLE OF WIGHT



THE ISLAND


_The_ Island, as its people are in the way of styling it, while not
going so far as to deny existence to the adjacent islands of Great
Britain and Ireland--the Wight, as it is sometimes called by old
writers--has for the first fact in its history that it was not always an
island. It once made a promontory of Dorset, cut off from the mainland
by a channel, whose rush of encountering tides seems still wearing away
the shores so as to broaden a passage of half a dozen miles at the most,
narrowed to about a mile between the long spit of Hurst and the
north-western corner of the Island. It may be that what is now a strait
has been the estuary of a great river, flooding itself into the sea,
which, like Hengist and Horsa, is apt to prove an invading ally
difficult to get rid of. _Wight_ is taken to represent an old British
name for the channel, that, by monkish Latinists, came to be christened
_pelagus solvens_; but the Solent may have had rather some etymological
kinship with the Solway.

The Channel Island, as thus its full style imports, has a natural
history of singular interest to geologists, who find here a wide range
of fossiliferous strata, from the Upper Eocene to the Wealden clay, so
exposed that one scientific authority admiringly declares how it “might
have been cut out by nature for a geological model illustrative of the
principles of stratification.” Perhaps the general reader may thank a
writer for not enlarging on this head; but a few words must be said
about the geological structure that shapes this Island’s scenery,
forming, as it were, a sort of abridged and compressed edition of no
small part of England. It divides itself into three zones, which may be
traced in the same order upon the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. Through the
centre runs a backbone of chalk Downs, a few hundred feet high and an
hour’s walk across at the broadest, narrowing towards either end to
crumble into the sea at the white cliffs of Culver and of the Needles.
To the south of this come beds of sand and marl, through which the chalk
again bulges out in isolated masses on the south coast to top the
highest crests of the Island, resting on such an unstable foundation
that extensive landslips here have thrown the architecture of nature
into picturesque ruin. The north side in general is tamer, a plain of
clays dotted by gravel, better wooded than the rest, though much of its
old timber has gone into the wooden walls of England, once kept in
repair at Portsmouth.

Across these zones of length, the Island is cut into two almost equal
parts by its chief river, the Medina, cleaving the central Downs near
Newport; and through gaps at either end flow two smaller rivers bearing
the same name of Yar, which seems to call Celtic cousinship with the
Garonne of France. For the Medina, as for the Medway, some such
derivation as the _Mid_ stream has been naturally suggested; but with
the fear of Dr Bradley upon me, I would pass lightly over the quaking
bog of place nomenclature. These three rivers have the peculiarity of
flowing almost right across the Island, a course so short that they may
well take their time about it. The other streams are of little
importance, except in the way of scenery. On the north side they form
shallow branching creeks which get from as much as they give to the sea,
that at high tide bears brown sails far inland among trees and hedges.
On the south, wearing their way down through the elevated shore line,
they carve out those abrupt chasms known as Chines, celebrated among the
beauty spots of this coast. The richest valley seems to be that of the
larger Yar, which turns into the sea at the north-east corner. The parts
most rich in natural charms are the south-eastern corner, with its
overgrown landslips, and the fissured chalk cliffs of the western
promontory beyond Freshwater.

All that variety of soil and surface is packed together into a roughly
rhomboidal shape, 23 miles long by 13 or 14 miles at the broadest, about
the size of Greater London, or say 1/36000 part of the habitable globe.
Within its circumference of 60 miles or so, this space of some 96,000
square acres holds a population of 82,000, beside innumerable transient
visitors. A pundit of figures has taken the trouble to calculate that
all the population of the world could find standing room in the Island
on the foot of four to the square yard, if the human race agreed on
spending a Bank Holiday here; but then little room might be left for
donkey-rides or switch-back railways. While we are on the head of
statistics, it may be mentioned that several scores of guide-books to
the Isle of Wight have been published, from Sir Henry Englefield’s noble
folio to the small brochures issued by hotels, these works containing on
an average 206,732 words, mostly superfluous in many cases; that 810,427
picture post-cards or thereabouts pass annually through the post-offices
of the island; that, in ordinary seasons, it sits to 1723 cameras; that
the hotel-bills annually paid in it would, if tacked together, reach
from St Petersburg to Yokohama, or if pasted over one another, make a
pile as high as the new War Office; and that 11.059 per cent. of the
newly married couples of Brixton, Balham, Upper Tooting, etc., are in
each year estimated to spend at least part of their honeymoon here, who
come back to confirm a prevailing belief that in no other part of the
British Isles does the moon shine so sweetly; while, indeed, a not quite
clearly ascertained proportion of them live to assert that the scenery
of the Island and the happiness of the marriage state have alike been
more or less overrated. I give these figures for what they are worth,
along with the unquestioned fact that the Isle of Wight belongs, in a
manner, to the county of Hants, but has a County Council of its own, and
in general maintains a very insular attitude of independence, modelled
on the proud bearing of Great Britain towards mere continental
countries.

Facts and figures somewhat fail one who comes to lecture on the original
population of this Island. The opinion fondly held in a certain section
of “smart” society, that the lawn of the Squadron at Cowes represents
the Garden of Eden, seems to rest upon no critical authority; indeed
Adam and Eve, as owners of no yacht, would not be qualified for
admission to this select enclosure. With some confidence we may state
that the Island was first peopled by aborigines enjoying no protection
against kidnappers and conquerors, who themselves found it difficult in
the long run to blackball undesirable aliens, as Australia and New
Zealand try to do under the protection of fleets steaming forth from the
Solent. There are well-marked indications of invasion by a Belgic tribe
from the mainland, to make this a “free” state, as early prelude to King
Leopold’s civilisation of the Congo. But we may pass lightly over the
Celtic period, with place-names and pit-dwellings as its records, to
come into clearer historic light with Vespasian’s conquest in A.D. 43.

For more than three centuries, with apparently one episode of revolt,
the Romans held Vectis, as they called it; and it has been maintained,
though this goes not unquestioned, that here was their _Ictis_ port, at
which they shipped the tin drawn from the mines of Cornwall. If so, the
island described by Diodorus Siculus was then an island only at high
water. The clearest marks left by Rome are the remains of villas
unearthed at different points, at least one of which indicates a tenant
of luxurious habits and tastes. We can understand how Italian exiles
might prefer this station to one in the bleak wilds of Derbyshire or
Northumberland, as an Anglo-Indian official of to-day thinks himself
lucky to have his compound at Poona or Bangalore, if not at Mahableshwar
or Simla. The Brading villa, indeed, like those of Bignor in Sussex and
Brough in Norfolk, seems rather to have been the settled home of a rich
nobleman, Roman or Romanised British, who had perhaps strong opinions as
to the way in which Rome neglected the wishes and interests of her
colonies. These remains were unearthed only in living memory, so that
writers of a century ago ignore such traces of Roman occupation.

Next came northern pirates, who would be not so much interested in the
mild climate of the Island, as in the creeks and landing-places of its
shores. They, too, have left relics of their occupation, chiefly in the
graves furnished with utensils and ornaments of heathen life. But when
Jutes and Saxons had destroyed the Roman civilisation, they fell under
another influence spread from the Mediterranean. Bishop Wilfred of
Selsey has the credit of planting, or replanting, Christianity in the
Island. It could hardly have taken deep root, when the Danes came to
ravage the monastic settlements. For a time the Cross and the Raven must
have struggled for mastery here like the encountering tides of Solent,
till that new wave of invaders ebbed back or was absorbed into the old
one; then again the Island became overflowed by a fresh storm of
conquest. If we consider from how many races, in three continents, the
Roman soldiery were drawn, and how the northmen must have mixed their
blood with that of a miscellany of captives, it is clear that, when
overrun by a fresh cross-breed between Gauls and Vikings, the population
of our islands, large and small, could in many parts have been no very
pure stock, such as is fondly imagined by the pride of modern
Pan-Celticism and Anglo-Saxondom.

In Norman England, the Wight soon emerges into note. King William
visited it to seize his ambitious brother Odo at Carisbrooke. The
fortress there was enlarged by William Fitz-Osborne, to whom the Island
had been granted, and who salved his conscience for any high-handed acts
of conquest by giving six churches to the Norman Abbey of Lira, the
beginning of a close connection with that continental foundation. His
son lost this lordship through treason; then for two centuries it was in
the hands of the Redvers, Earls of Devon, who grew to be
quasi-independent princes. The last of their line was Isabella de
Fortibus, holding her head high as Lady of the Island till on her
deathbed, her children being dead, she sold her rights to Edward I. for
6000 marks.

Henceforth this dependency was governed for the crown through
lieutenants at first known as Wardens, an office held by great names
like Edward III. in his childhood, the Earl of Salisbury, the Duke of
York, the Duke of Gloucester, Anthony Woodvile, Earl of Rivers; and in
such hands more than once showing a tendency to become hereditary. Their
post was no sinecure, for at this period the Island made a striking
point for French raids that have left their mark on its towns. Not that
the raiding was all on one side. The islanders long remembered ruefully
how Sir Edward Woodvile led the flower of their manhood into France,
when of more than four hundred fighters only one boy escaped to tell the
tale of their destruction, that seems to have been wrought by French
artillery, turning the tables on the English long-bow.

The weak Henry VI. had crowned young Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick,
as “King of the Isle of Wight.” Politic Henry VII., for his part, saw
well to restrain the power and dignity of those Island deputies, now
styled Captains. In the Tudor time, three Captains came to note, Sir
Richard Worsley as carrying out the reformation policy of Henry VIII.,
Sir Edward Horsey, as a doughty soldier of fortune, who is said to have
begun his career with a plot to betray the Island to the French, but on
coming into this office kept a sharp eye both on foreign enemies and on
his private interests, doing a bit of piracy for his own hand, if all
stories be true; then Sir George Carey, who had the anxious task of
defence against the Spanish Armada. When that peril went to pieces, the
Island at last began to enjoy a period of secure prosperity, testified
to by the fact that most of its old houses, mansion or cottage, appear
to date from Elizabeth or James. Yet so late as 1627, soon after the
captaincy of Lord Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron, it got a scare from
a Dutch fleet, taken for Spaniards.

New confusion came with the Civil War, in which the Wight people were
mostly on the parliament’s side, while the leading gentry stood for the
king. The best-known episode of the Island’s history is Charles I.’s
imprisonment at Carisbrooke, which may be passed over here to be dealt
with more fully _in loco._ The Isle of Wight might well back up the
parliament; as then and till the Reform Bill it sent six members, an
over-representation now reduced to one, and formerly, indeed, apt to be
qualified by official interference with freedom of election.

In Charles II.’s “golden age of the coward, the bigot and the slave,”
the governorship of the Island was given to Lord Colepeper, who made
himself obnoxious here, and got a wider field of domination in
Virginia, where also he seems to have been unbeloved. His huge colonial
grants passed by marriage of his daughter to Lord Fairfax, whose eldest
son settled on his American property, said to extend over five million
acres, giving up the English estates to his younger brother. This was
clearly hint for Thackeray’s story of the Virginian Warringtons. Only
the other day the heir of this family, America’s sole peer, became
naturalised afresh in England, after his title had been laid up in
lavender, or tobacco, for several generations. Another personage in _The
Virginians_, General Webb, held the governorship of the Island for a few
years. But now the Captains, or Governors as they came to be styled, had
little to do which could not be done by deputy, while the post was worth
holding by men of high rank, as by the Dukes of Bolton and Montague
under George II., when its salary was £1500 a year.

Under them the Island was happy enough to have little history, though it
had again to be on its guard when Dutch admirals talked of sweeping the
English ships from the Channel. It saw William’s fleet sail by on the
way to Torbay; and two years later it seemed about to have from its
southern cliffs the spectacle of a hundred French sail engaging the
English and Dutch squadrons; but the scene of that encounter was shifted
to Beachy Head, where it ended in a manner not much dwelt upon in our
naval annals. Then the long struggle with Napoleon once more turned this
outpost of England into a camp. In the peaceful days that followed, the
governorship became a mere ceremonial function. The title, held by
Prince Henry of Battenberg, was passed on to his widow, the youngest
daughter of Queen Victoria, whose death at Osborne makes the last date
in this Island chronicle.

An insulated people naturally formed a race apart, speaking a marked
dialect, and cherishing a strong local feeling. Their situation, and the
once pressing need to stand on defence by land and sea, bred a sturdy
race, whose vigour in old days was apt to run to such enterprising ways
of life as piracy, wrecking, and smuggling; but all that may be
forgotten like scandal about Queen Elizabeth. One evil of the islanders
keeping so much to themselves has been a stagnation of population, that
through intermarriage made for degeneracy. Sir John Oglander, the Stuart
worthy whose jottings on his contemporaries prove so amusing, says that
the Island once bore the reproach of not producing a good horse, a wise
man, or a pretty woman; but he hastens to add _Tempora mutant_; and on
the last head, the stranger can judge the calumny for himself. Hassell,
an eighteenth century tourist, remarks for his part on the beauty and
even elegance of the farmers’ daughters at Newport market, while of the
fathers he hints at grog-blossoms as a too common feature. The lately
published memoirs of Captain Elers treat the former point as matter of
notoriety. A certain boisterous pertness noted in the male youth of the
Island has been referred by sociologists to an absence of birch in its
flora. All ages have been noted for a clannishness that was once
disposed to look askance on such “overners” or “overers” as found their
way into the Wight, whose own stock we see to have sprung from
immigrants of different breeds. But here, as elsewhere, schools,
newspapers, and facilities of travel are fast rubbing down the
prejudices of parish patriotism.

The upper class, indeed, is now largely made up of well-to-do strangers
drawn to the Island by its various amenities; while the sons of the soil
have laid aside suspicious dislike of the outsiders whom they know as
profitable guests. From pictorial cards, valentines, and such vulgar
documents, they appear to bear the nickname of Isle of Wight “Calves,”
which may be taken as a sub-species of the “Hampshire Hogs,” who suffer
such neighbourly satire as is shown in by-words like “Norfolk
Dumplings,” “Lincolnshire Yellow-bellies,” or “Wiltshire Moonrakers.”
Some strangers, however, at the height of the season, have been more
inclined to find for the natives a zoological similitude in the order of
_Raptores_. “I do not mean,” as a precise old gentleman once explained
to me of his landlady, “that she has feathers and claws like a bird; but
I assert that, in character and in disposition, she resembles a
vulture.” It is often, indeed, made evident to the meanest capacity that
the Island hosts belong to a long-billed family; but they perhaps as
often as not may be classed as overners, or referred to the hydra-like
form of polyzoic organism popularly known as a Company, Limited.

The soil is well cultivated, and many of the farms look thriving, though
the rank hedges and the flowers that colour some of the pastures, spread
a more pleasing view for an idle stranger than for a practical
cultivator. The Downs support flocks as well as golf clubs; the breed of
Island sheep was highly esteemed of old, where the climate makes for
early lambing. When some parts were overrun with “conies,” Sir E. Horsey
had the name of bringing in hares, which he paid for at the rate of a
lamb a-piece; but foxes and badgers have not crossed the Solent.

The coast folk carry on amphibious business, from oyster beds to
ship-chandling. Ship-building at Cowes, and cement-making on the Medina,
are the only large industries I know of. The chief trade seems to be in
tourists, who are taxed, tolled, and touted for at every turn by the
purveyors of entertainment for man and beast, the managers of
excursions, and the enclosers of natural curiosities. Visitors come from
far and near, the Island making a holiday resort for the townsfolk of
Portsmouth and Southampton, while among foreign tourists, it seems to
have a special attraction for Germans; and some of the American
travellers who “do” Europe in three weeks are known to spend as much as
several hours in scampering across to Ventnor.

A good many visitors, however, come for a considerable time, delicate or
luxurious folk, lucky enough to be able to take advantage of a milder
climate in our uncertain winter or still more treacherous spring. One
must not indeed expect too much of any British climate. About Torquay,
the chief rival of Ventnor as a sheltered resort, a well-known novelist,
after living there through many winters, says bluntly that it is a
little less cold than the rest of England. Such places are apt to bid
for patronage by statistics of sunshine, temperature, and so forth,
which may prove bamboozling, not to say deceptive, when it is difficult
to tabulate the occurrence of trying extremes under the changes and
chances of our fickle sky. The best test of climate is its general
effect on vegetation; and it may be said with truth that the Isle of
Wight, on the whole, is two or three weeks ahead of inland districts of
our country. But it cannot claim to be such a halcyon spot as the
dream-world of another poet, who knew it well in all weathers.

    The island-valley of Avilion,
    Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
    Nor any wind blows loudly, but it lies
    Deep-meadowed, happy, fair with orchard lawns
    And bowery hollows crowned with summer sea.

There is snow here, sometimes, and rain pretty often; while wind makes
for the islanders as touchy a point as the title “Lady of Snows” for
Canada; but in fact, being an island, this nook must take the
consequences of such a situation, swept by breezes from all quarters,
especially from the south-west. The north and east sides of course are
more exposed to bracing winds, and their resorts, from Cowes to Sandown,
come into favour rather in the summer season, that fills the sails of
yachts and pleasure-boats, as well as greases the wheels of coaches
cruising upon land excursions. The “Back of the Island” is more stormed
upon by Atlantic gales, while one half of it, the famous Undercliff, is
so snugly shut in to the north, as to make a winter garden of myrtles,
fuchsias, arbutus, and still rarer evergreenery. Here, perhaps, it was
that a Miss Malaprop complained of this Island as not “embracing”
enough, and got advice to try then the Isle of Man.

As to the best time for a visit, that depends partly on which aspect of
the Island is to be sought, not to say on circumstances and opportunity;
but to my mind it wears its fairest face in its dullest season, when its
hotel-keepers see cause to take their own holiday. Then, in early
summer, flocks of sheep-like tourists miss seeing at their freshest and
richest the clumps of umbrageous foliage, the hedgerows and copses sweet
with gay blossoms, the turfy slopes spangled with wild flowers, the
glowing meadows, the blooming cottage plots, the “weeds of glorious
feature,” and in short, all the charms that make this one of “the
gardens of England,” in which, exclaims Oliver Wendell Holmes,
“everything grows with such a lavish extravagance of greenery that it
seems as if it must bankrupt the soil before autumn.” It is better
visited in spring, which comes so early up this way, that Easter as well
as Whitsuntide holiday-makers may catch the first flush of one of those
nooks described by Dr Bromfield in his _Flora Vectensis_--“a blooming
wilderness of primroses, wood-anemones, violets, and a hundred other
lovely and fragrant things, overtopped by the taller and purple-stained
wood-spurge, early purple orchis, and the pointed hoods of the
spotted-leaved wake-robin; the daisy-besprinkled track leading us
upward, skirted by mossy fern-clad banks on one hand, and by shelving
thickets on the other, profusely overshadowed by ivy-arched oak and ash,
the graceful birch, and varnished holly.” Then still sooner may be
looked for the spangling of the sheltered Undercliff, where, as Miss
Sewell describes: “The ground is tossed about in every direction, and
huge rocks lie scattered upon it. But thorns and chestnuts and ash-trees
have sprung up amongst them upon the greensward; ivy has climbed up the
ledges of the jagged cliffs; primroses cluster upon the banks; cowslips
glitter on the turf; and masses of hyacinths may be seen in glades, half
hidden by the foliage of the thick trees, through which the jutting
masses of grey rock peep out upon the open sea, sparkling with silver
and blue some hundreds of feet beneath them.”

Old books frequently dwell on what was once a drawback, the difficulty
of getting to the Island--the getting away from which is more apparent
to one class of his present Majesty’s subjects, housed here at
Parkhurst, much against their will. Piers and steamboats have now made
it as accessible as the Isle of Thanet, and more often visited than the
Isle of Dogs. There are half-a-dozen routes from London, through the
three opposite ports of Portsmouth, Southampton, and Lymington, not to
speak of Southsea and Stokes Bay. The Portsmouth route comes into
closest touch with the Island’s own railways, made up of several local
enterprises, amalgamated into the two systems styled the Isle of Wight
Railway, and the Isle of Wight Central Railway. Of these lines the Rev.
Mr Chadband would be bound to say that they are perhaps the worst, the
dearest, and the most provoking in the country; to which their
shareholders could reply only by a groan worthy of Mr Stiggins, while a
want of mutual connection and convenience may be referred to relations
like those of Messrs Jorkins and Spenlow. From their exactions it is the
hasty stranger that suffers most, the inhabitants being better versed in
devices of season-tickets, parliamentary fares, and other mitigations of
a tariff, by which, for example, it costs sixpence to go from one end of
Ryde Pier to the other, and half-a-crown or so for the dozen miles’ trip
across the Island.

But if the visitor grudge such charges, he will find plenty of
competition in the excursion coaches that gape for him as soon as he
gets off Ryde Pier, or the motor ’buses that hence ply in several
directions. For his own wheel there are excellent roads, as well as
others; and to see the best of the Island, he does well if he can avail
himself of that oldest and cheapest conveyance known to merry hearts as
“Shanks’ mare.” It is on this footing, chiefly, that I have wandered
about the Isle of Wight, through which I am now to conduct the gentle
reader on a rambling and gossiping tour in his own arm-chair.



RYDE


We need not cast about for the spot at which to make our landing on the
shores of Wight. Lying opposite Portsmouth, with a crossing of
half-an-hour or so, Ryde is the chief gateway of the Island and knot of
its railways to every part, Cowes being more in touch with Southampton,
and Yarmouth at the west end coming closest to the mainland port of
Lymington. With its suburbs and dependencies, Ryde is considerably the
largest place, having outgrown Newport, the titular capital, by a
population largely made up of retired veterans, families of officers on
service, and other select society such as one finds thickly settled at
Southsea, across the Solent. So much one can guess from the look of the
brick villas that spread over the swelling heights of Ryde’s background,
and of the smart shops in and about its Union Street, while an unusual
proportion of hotels and refreshment rooms hint at influx of transient
visitors both from the classes and the masses.

A century ago, this could be described in a local guide-book as a “place
of some consequence.” Only since then has Ryde become the goodly town
we now see, yet it is no mushroom resort, but old enough to have been
burned by French assailants under Richard II. The sheltered anchorage
behind the Isle of Wight was once too well known to wind-bound
travellers, who might have to fret here for weeks or months, as Leigh
Hunt, on his voyage to Italy, spent half a year at Plymouth. So
Fielding, sailing to die at Lisbon, was detained at Ryde, which seems
then to have been little more than a hamlet. No tea could be got there;
it had a butcher, but he was not “killing”; and though the inn at which
the travellers put up could supply a long bill, its other accommodations
were such that they preferred to take their dinner in the barn. The
landing of a helpless invalid proved a trying adventure where, “between
the sea and the shore, there was at low water an impassable gulf, if I
may so call it, of deep mud, which could neither be traversed by walking
nor swimming, so that for near one half of the twenty-four hours, Ryde
was inaccessible by friend or foe.” In spite of such disadvantages, the
dying novelist has nothing but good to say of it, once he had got over
its moat of mud.

     This pleasant village is situated on a gentle ascent from the
     water, whence it affords that charming prospect I have above
     described. Its soil is a gravel, which, assisted with its
     declivity, preserves it always so dry, that immediately after the
     most violent rain, a fine lady may walk without wetting her silken
     shoes. The fertility of the place is apparent from its
     extraordinary verdure, and it is so shaded with large and
     flourishing elms, that its narrow lanes are a

[Illustration: RYDE--MOONRISE]

     natural grove or walk, which in the regularity of its plantation
     vies with the power of art, and in its wanton exuberancy greatly
     exceeds it. In a field, in the ascent of this hill, about a quarter
     of a mile from the sea, stands a neat little chapel. It is very
     small, but adequate to the number of inhabitants: for the parish
     doth not seem to contain above thirty houses.

Marryat also speaks of the muddy shore, over which voyagers had often to
be carried ashore pickaback or in a horse and cart, as was the way of
landing at Buenos Ayres till not so long ago. But he saw the
construction of its pier, one of the earliest pleasure piers in England,
that made a great difference to Ryde; and for a time it shot up into
more note and fashion as a seaside resort than it enjoys now among so
many rivals. A hint of that palmy time is given by some dignified old
mansions about the town, which, during the last half century or so, has
looked for quantity as much as quality in its visitors.

At the present day, the bed of mud has been overlaid by a coat of sand,
taken advantage of for bathing facilities still too dependent on the
tide, ebbing out beyond an unfinished pier that serves as a swimming
bath at certain hours. By means of groynes, the sand is now being coaxed
to gather less thinly on the shore, where a battery of bathing machines
stands in position. Else Ryde is no very good bathing place; nor,
exposed to cold winds, does it invite invalids like the other side of
the Island. Its interests have been rather in yachting and boating; and
its frequenters those who relish a breezy marine flavour in life.
August, gay with regattas, is the great time for this Solent shore. The
broad pier, 2000 feet long, sets the tide at defiance, carrying out both
a railway and a tramway to meet the steamers that land holiday crowds as
well as passengers for all parts of the Island. For the amusement of
youthful visitors a canoeing lake has been made in the gardens, behind
the sea-wall running eastwards, with its fine view of Spithead and the
chequered forts islanded in the Solent.

It was off this Esplanade that in 1782 went down the _Royal George_, one
of our finest men-of-war, upset by a land breeze when heeled over safely
enough, as was supposed, in calm weather. The story goes that a
pig-headed officer of the watch would not attend to the carpenter’s
report that she was filling; then naval discipline cost the loss of
seven hundred lives. Great numbers of bodies came ashore at Ryde, to be
buried under what is now a trim promenade. Others found a resting-place
in Portsea Churchyard, where a monument to their memory stands under the
noble tower of the new Church, so well seen from the railway as it
enters Portsmouth. The catastrophe is best remembered by Cowper’s
epitaph, “Toll for the Brave!” and by the narrative in Marryat’s _Poor
Jack_. Less well known are Sir Henry Englefield’s lines, written when
the graves could still be seen near the shore.

    “Thou! who dost tread this smooth and verdant mead,
    Viewing delighted the fair hills that rise
    On either hand, a sylvan theatre;
    While in the front with snowy pinions closed,
    And thunders silent, Britain’s guardian fleet
    On the deep bosom of the azure sea
    Reposes aweful--pass not heedless by
    These mould’ring heaps, which the blue spiry grass
    Scarce guards from mingling with the common earth.
    Mark! in how many a melancholy rank.
    The graves are marshall’d--Dost thou know the fate
    Disastrous, of their tenants? Hushed the winds,
    And smooth the billows, when an unseen hand
    Smote the great ship, and rift her massy beams:
    She reeled and sunk.--Over her swarming decks
    The flashing wave in horrid whirlpool rushed;
    While from a thousand throats, one wailing shriek
    Burst--and was heard no more.
                        Then day by day,
    The ebbing tide left frequent on the sand,
    The livid corpse; and his o’erloaded net
    The shuddering fisher loathed to drag ashore.
    And here, by friends unknown, unmarked, unwept,
    They rest.”[1]

Another event in Ryde’s history was the landing here of the Empress of
the French after Sedan. Her escape from Paris had been conducted by Dr
Evans, the American dentist; then from Deauville, Sir John Burgoyne
brought her across in his yacht through such stormy weather, that it had
almost been forced to put back into some French port. At sunrise, a Ryde
hotel close to the pier turned away two travel-worn ladies accompanied
by a gentleman, who found refuge in the York Hotel. So the unfortunate
Empress, with her small suite, could at last rest in peace. The first
thing she did, Dr Evans tells us, was to seek comfort in a Bible that,
by chance as she supposed, lay in the small top room given to this
_incognita_. Charles X. on his final exile, had also made for the Isle
of Wight, arriving off Cowes, but he does not seem to have landed there.

On the approach by sea, Ryde presents an attractive aspect, displayed as
it is upon a hillside, with its steeply sloping streets, its conspicuous
spires, and its fringe of handsome villas embowered in rich woods that
enclose the town on either side. The most prominent landmark is the
far-seen steeple of the parish Church in the upper part of the town,
built after designs of Sir G. G. Scott, and ornamented with a fine show
of modern art. Beside this stands the Town Hall, beyond which another
church combines a Strawberry Hill Gothic effect, with a light colouring
that at first sight suggests Oriental associations: it might do for a
chapel to the Brighton Pavilion. Ryde has its fair allowance of churches
and chapels of all denominations; but we need not look here for ancient
dignity or picturesqueness, even the parish churches of such modern
resorts as

[Illustration: NEWCHURCH--THE MOTHER CHURCH OF RYDE]

Ryde or Ventnor having been originally chapels of ease to some now
obscure metropolis inland. Georgian solidity or Early Victorian stucco
are the highest notes of antiquity in this smart and cheerful town,
which at the last census, taking in its outskirts, counted 18,000
inhabitants.

Church architecture, it may be said, is not the strongest point of the
Island; though several of its churches have interesting remnants of
Norman work; and I have heard of one native claiming for his parish
steeple an unrecorded antiquity of more than 1600 years, in proof of
which he showed the figures 1620 still legible on the fabric. One of the
most notable ecclesiastical antiquities, Quarr Abbey, lies a pleasant
couple of miles’ walk westward from Ryde. The way is by the adjoining
parish of Binstead, with its modern Church preserving some fragments of
the old one, originally built by the Abbot of Quarr, “because he would
not have all his tenants and the inhabitants of Binstead come to trouble
the Abbey Church.” A gravelled path and a lovers’ lane through a series
of oak copses, giving peeps of the mainland coast, bring one in view of
Quarr Abbey, whose ivied ruins are now to be restored. The name Quarr or
Quarraria is said to come from the Binstead quarries of Upper Eocene
limestone, that figures largely in Winchester Cathedral. The abbey was
founded in the middle of the twelfth century by Baldwin de Redvers, in
fulfilment of a vow made during his banishment for taking Maud’s part
against Stephen, after which his head was lifted up again, so that he
became Lord of the Island and Earl of Devon. He was the first to be
buried here, as later were other persons of note, among them the Lady
Cicely, second daughter of Edward IV., who had married a gentleman of
the Island. Among the numerous traditions attached to the abbey, there
is one that connects a wood called Eleanor’s Grove with the queen of
Henry II., said to have been imprisoned here.

This was the second Cistercian house established in England, which
before long absorbed so much of the Island, that the Abbot of Quarr
became a petty prince. “Happy was that gentleman that could get his son
to attend upon him,” says Oglander: such offices as treasurer, steward,
chief butler, and rent-gatherer of the abbey being sought by the cadets
of the chief families. But after the Dissolution it soon fell into
decay, monuments and all being sold; and in the beginning of the
seventeenth century, Sir John Oglander found that the very site of the
church had already been forgotten by old men, even by one who remembered
the days of its glory. At this time it had been bought for £3000 by Mr
Fleming, descendant of the Dutch mason brought over from the Low Country
by the founder to carry out the work. “Such,” moralises the knight, “is
the inconstancy of Fortune, which, with the aid of her servant Time,
pulleth down great things and setteth up poor things.”

Since then, the outlines have been more carefully uncovered, or traced,
including part of a wall with which, by license of Edward III., this
abbey was fortified against the attacks of sea-rovers, and of the French
invaders who often assailed the Island. Among the old monuments recorded
by Oglander was one to a “great Monsieur of France” slain here in
Richard II.’s reign. The structure, of which some interesting fragments
remain, was in part adapted as farm buildings, the refectory turned into
a barn. But Quarr has now been bought by the community of French
Benedictines that some years ago crossed the Channel to Appuldurcombe on
the southern downs of the Island; and it is understood that they propose
to restore the abbey as a congenial home. A swarm of nuns of the same
Order has lately settled at Ryde, after a temporary residence at
Northwood, near Cowes. Carisbrooke houses other foreign _religieux_, who
have also a school at Ventnor. Thus the whirligig of time brings about
its revenges, heretic England giving sanctuary to the churchmen of
Catholic France.

From Quarr Abbey, one can stroll on to Fishbourne at the mouth of a
creek called the Wootton River, which, a mile or so up, at Wootton
Bridge is crossed by the road from Ryde to Cowes, passing presently
behind the grounds of Osborne. Wootton is another of the oldest Wight
churches, still preserving some features of the time when it was built
by one of the Lisle family (_De l’Ile_) who took their name from this
Island, and gave it to Dame Alice Lisle, the victim of Judge Jeffrey’s
bloody assize. Holding on up the wooded bottom of Wootton River, one
reaches the village of Haven Street, from which an hour’s walk leads
back to the southern outskirts of Ryde, where all but the name of St
John’s Park is now overspread by brick and stone. The way by road gives
a fair notion of the Island scenery on this side; and might be very
pleasantly extended by lanes and field-paths, copses and commons,
seaming and roughening the three mile belt between the sea and the Chalk
Downs to the south.

But the many rambles that may be taken here-abouts are the business of
guide-books; and the high-roads leading out of Ryde need not be pointed
out to its crews of coach excursionists, and to passengers on the motor
omnibuses that start here for different parts of the Island, some faring
as far as Shanklin and Blackgang Chine. For the present let us leave
roads and railways, to stroll along the shore to Seaview, which, at the
north-eastern corner, makes a sort of chapel of ease to Ryde, as
Paignton to Torquay or Westgate to Margate.

This gives another very pleasant hour’s walk, to be taken along the
sea-wall that continues Ryde’s Esplanade. On the land side the way is
much shut in by park woods and castellated villas, but it has an open
view over the Solent, across which at night gleam the myriad lights of
Portsmouth and Southsea; daylight shows this strait enlivened by all
kinds of shipping, and often glorified by the spectacle of a British
fleet, as sometimes by international naval encounters in peace and
courtesy. Our modern ships of war may make a more impressive display,
yet no longer such a picturesque one as when a century ago one visitor
could tell how he saw the whole Channel filled by a convoy, several
hundreds strong, so that “the blue waters in the distance were almost
hidden by the snow-white cloud of sails.” The pictorial place of these
sails, indeed, is often taken by the racing yachts, which run all to
sail; and “a sail is one of the most beautiful things which man ever
invented!” So exclaims Mr George A. B. Dewar, whose “Pageant of the Sea”
papers in the _Saturday Review_ give us Turneresque pictures of this
landlocked waterway:--

     In autumn the sea and landscapes of the Isle of Wight, towards
     evening and in very still weather, seem to belong to some enchanted
     country. The hills of the Island, seen from the water, grow utterly
     unsubstantial then. They turn dove-coloured, and so soft and light
     in their appearance that they might, to a stranger to the place,
     pass for clouds on the horizon. The sea, with the mild sun on it,
     is emerald; and the band of colour that adjoins it to the north,
     given by the wooded shores of Hamble and Southampton Water, is a
     splendid purple. At other times, on an autumn evening like this,
     but with some imperceptible difference in the atmosphere, the faint
     outlines of hills far beyond Portsmouth and its land forts, have
     the peculiar appearance of being partly covered with a thin coating
     of stained snow. Every shade of blue and green touches these waters
     between mainland and island in early autumn as in summer, often
     changing with a changing sky from minute to minute.... Not all the
     illusions of this sea are kept for the hush of sundown and the
     shade of coming night. The sea blooms of the Solent, films and
     hazes, at all seasons glorify and mystify every ship they touch,
     clumsy coal barge, harbour-dredger, graceful racing yacht.

More than half-way on our path starts up Puckpool or Spring Vale, a row
of seaside lodgings nestling under the protection of a fort that makes a
link in Portsmouth’s fortified _enceinte_. Here the shallow shore
spreads at low water a wide stretch of sand, so firm that horses as well
as children can disport themselves upon it; and it seems as if the
nearest fort could almost be reached on wheels. The path holds on by a
strip of meadowland; and thus we come to Seaview, that has overlaid the
old name of Nettlestone Point.

Seaview, indeed, was first Seagrove before it became a flourishing
family bathing-place, with the unusual setting of woods so close down to
the water’s edge that one may lie in a boat and hear the nightingale
almost overhead; but these groves tantalise the landlubber by a crop of
forbidding notices to trespassers. It has a chain pier of its own, and a
regular service of steamboats from Southsea, that run on to Bembridge.
This pier, with the hotel behind, splits the place into two separate
sections, marked by their architecture as belonging to different strata
of pleasure-seeking. The part nearer Ryde is the true old Seaview of
wandering rows, bow-windowed lodging-houses, and modest refreshment
rooms. On the east side of the bay has sprung up a newer, smarter,
redder bit of esplanade, making a pretty contrast to its dark green
background. A private road leads to this end, which, else, at high tide
is cut off, so that the butcher or greengrocer may be seen delivering
his wares by boat in quite Venetian manner. There are sands for
children, and rocks for scrambling, and a shallow beach for launching
canoes on these safe waters, where the red sails of the Bembridge Yacht
Club make dots of colour, as do the tents here taking the place of
bathing-machines. Another peculiar feature is the diving-boards anchored
out at sea, since the tide, creeping up to the Esplanade garden gates,
woos paddlers rather than swimmers. Seaview, in short, holds itself
something out of the common in the way of bathing-places, dealing with
strangers rather in the wholesale way of house-letting than the retail
trade of apartments.

Beyond the broken point, where one seems to catch Nature in her
workshop, kneading clay into firmer forms, a rough walk along the shore
of Priory Bay leads on to St Helen’s, reached inland by the road through
Nettlestone Green. Once clear of houses, we plunge among the rank
greenery of the Island, too much monopolised here by the grounds of the
Priory, which preserves the name of a colony of monks swarmed over from
France to St Helen’s in early Plantagenet days. This was one of the
properties bought by Emmanuel Badd, who, _teste_ Sir John Oglander,
began life as a poor shoemaker’s apprentice at Newport, “but by God’s
blessinge and ye loss of 5 wyfes, he grewe very ritch,” rose to be High
Sheriff of Hants, and was buried under an epitaph in Jacobean taste,
ending

    So good a Bad doth this same grave contain,
    Would all like Bad were that with us remain!

But at St Helen’s we have rounded the corner of the Island, which we may
now survey from another line of operations.



NEWPORT


Before holding on by road, rail, or boat along the coast, let us take a
course through the centre of the Island, on which we can pay due respect
to its capital. From Ryde, Cowes, and Freshwater run railways that meet
at Newport, where the Medina begins to be navigable, and thence go off
branches to Ventnor and Sandown. This junction, then, makes the
radiating point of the Isle of Wight’s communications; and all its main
roads converge at Newport, which, though not quite so large as Ryde, and
not so well recruited by strangers, is a flourishing place of over
10,000 people.

One sees at once that this is no _ville de plaisance_, but the home of
all sorts and conditions of men, taking toll on the country round by
varied industry. Roman origin has been claimed for it on hint of the
straight streets and crossings that give it a more regular aspect than
most country towns, shading off indeed on the skirts into wandering
lanes and rising outgrowths of the “Mount Pleasant” order. A peculiar
feature is the little Quay quarter, where the Lugley stream from
Carisbrooke comes in to make the Medina navigable for small vessels
freighted with timber, coals, malt, wheat, and so forth. But the tidal
river below Newport adorns the landscape only at high water, being too
often a broad ribbon of slime creeping between low banks, not beautified
by the big cement works lower down, that get their raw material in mud
as well as chalk. More picturesque are the Chalk Downs, on the other
side embracing the town with their green shoulders and quarried faces.

The central cross-way is marked by a memorial to Queen Victoria. Close
by, too narrowly shut up in its square, stands St Thomas’s Church, whose
stately tower and high roof pitch makes the boss of Newport from all
points of view. This is little more than half a century old, taking the
place of the ancient shrine dedicated to the memory of St Thomas à
Becket, which was rather unwarrantably pulled down, that “holy blissful
martyr’s” dedication being at the same time usurped by Thomas the
Apostle, a saint more congenial to our age. Some of its old treasures
are preserved in the present structure, notably the Charles I. pulpit,
carved with personifications of Justice and Mercy, the Three Graces, the
Four Cardinal Virtues, and the Seven Liberal Arts, among which a goat
marks the name of the artist, Thomas Caper. Another antiquity is the
monument to Sir Edward Horsey, Captain of the Island, 1565-82, showing
his canopied effigy in armour with an epitaph attributing to him, after
the manner of such, more virtues than he gets credit for in history.
The

[Illustration: NEWPORT]

most beautiful monument is a modern one by Baron Marochetti, to
commemorate Princess Elizabeth, Charles I.’s deformed and sickly
daughter, buried in the old church 1650; but her tomb had been forgotten
till the accidental discovery of the coffin in 1793. She is represented
as found dead by her attendants, according to tradition, with her face
resting on the pages of an open Bible, the gift of her father; and a
happy touch of symbolism shows the iron bars of her life broken by
death. Along with this monument, Queen Victoria contributed two memorial
windows and a medallion of the Prince Consort by the same sculptor.

There is no room for a churchyard in St Thomas’s Square; but across
South Street will be found the old cemetery, close packed with graves.
One, seen from the path leading along it, hints at a story too common a
century ago, an ugly obelisk to the memory of Valentine Gray, “the
little sweep,” erected by public subscription “in testimony of the
general feeling for suffering innocence.” Here is buried John Hamilton
Reynolds, Keats’ friend, and Hood’s brother-in-law, who himself in youth
bid fair to earn poetic fame. He is understood to be part author of
Hood’s _Odes to Great People_; and he was to have collaborated with
Keats in a volume of Italian tales, not to speak of work of his own like
“a runaway ring at Wordsworth’s Peter Bell”; but after penning stanzas
not unsuccessfully, he had the singular fate of taking to engrossing as
a solicitor. He seems to have grown soured or sottish in his later
life, which he ended obscurely as an official of the Newport County
Court.

Of the few old buildings left in Newport, the most remarkable is the
Jacobean Grammar School at the corner of Lugley Street and the road
going down to cross Towngate bridge for Parkhurst and West Cowes. The
old portion, for a later addition has been made, is interesting not only
in itself, but as understood to have housed Charles I. during his last
abortive negotiations with the Parliament, at the end of which the king
was hurried away to his doom. Here, at that day, it was usual to receive
captains and other great men coming into the Island, with an oration
prepared by the schoolmaster and recited by a promising pupil; but one
fears that on his later appearances at Newport poor Charles was somewhat
scrimply treated in the way of loyal addresses.

Visitors to Newport nowadays come mainly for the sake of Carisbrooke
Castle, which is perhaps the chief attraction of the Island, drawing
thousands of excursionists on a holiday occasion. Carisbrooke, at one
time overshadowing the humble beginnings of Newport, is now almost one
of its suburbs, the distance being only a mile or so. From the end of
High Street, the way is by the Mall, a dignified parade that suggests
Bath or Clifton. The road divides at a memorial cross to Sir John
Simeon, Tennyson’s friend and neighbour at Swainston, notable as the
first Catholic to sit in a modern parliament, though he belonged to a
family whose theological associations were expressed by the Simeon Trust
for stocking pulpits with Evangelical divines. Either fork leads to
Carisbrooke, that to the right being the highway for the village, and
the other going more directly to the castle, under a height on which is
the cemetery.

The Windsor of Newport is in itself a place to delight our American
guests, a long, steep village street of true British irregularity,
giving off straggling lanes of rose-wreathed cottages, through which, in
the hollow, flows a clear and shallow brook, bordered by luxuriant
hedges, and by notices of “Teas Provided.” The main thoroughfare,
mounting up to the Church, shows an unusual number of hotels and other
places of entertainment; and the excursion vehicles that rendezvous here
in summer rather disturb the peaceful charm of Carisbrooke, which too
evidently lives on its visitors.

What is left of the Church, originally a double one divided between the
parish and a priory that stood here, still makes a spacious structure,
rearing the best tower in the Island, and enshrining some monuments and
relics, most notable among them the tomb of Sir Nicholas Wadham’s wife,
two generations before the founder of Wadham College. A quaint wooden
tablet recalls the career of William Keeling, one of the earliest of our
East Indian officials, whose name is preserved by the Keeling or Cocos
Islands discovered by him far out in the Indian Ocean, in our time to
be occupied by a Scottish family named Ross, who made this atoll group
into a thriving settlement. The churchyard has a good show of old
tombstones, including a weeping willow, railed in, as fanciful memorial
of a former vicar.

A late incumbent was the Rev. E. Boucher James, whose Archæological and
Historical Letters made valuable contributions to the annals of the
Island. He does not omit to dig up the buried renown of his predecessor,
the Rev. Alexander Ross, that erudite and voluminous Scot, now
remembered only by the luck of rhyme that made a “sage philosopher” to
have “read Alexander Ross over,” yet by his pen or his preaching, or
somehow, he seems to have gained a considerable fortune, part of which
he left to the poor of Carisbrooke. Any modern reader who cares to
tackle this once-esteemed author, might try a spell at his “Πανσεβεια:
View of all Religions,” which is still to be seen at libraries, if not
on railway bookstalls. Another Carisbrooke worthy commemorated by Mr
James was William Stephens, who, after losing his fortune and his seat
as member for Newport, took part in General Oglethorpe’s philanthropic
plan for settling Georgia, came to be president of the colony, and ended
his life rather miserably in squabbles with the disciples of Whitfield
and other discontented immigrants. Among this learned parson’s records
is the pretty story of Dorothy Osborne, who, travelling with her father
and brother in the days of the Civil War, at an inn hereabouts fell in
with the future Sir William Temple, and the beginning of their courtship
was through one of the young men scrawling on the window some
disrespectful words about the Parliament, which led to the whole party
being haled before the governor, to be released when Dorothy took the
offence on herself: those stern Ironsides did not war against ladies.
More than once the late vicar has to speak of his “friend and
parishioner,” Henry Morley, who here ended the labours on English
literature that made his name well known both in England and America.

Beside the parsonage is a sixpenny show of pavements, and other remains
of a Roman villa unearthed about half a century ago, but since thrown
into the shade by the larger one discovered at Brading. A more recent
sign of Roman invasion is the establishment here of foreign religious
communities, driven by French secularism into this pleasant exile. It is
no common village that clusters about the tower, looking down “from its
centuries of grey calm on the fitful stir and fret around it, and the
fevered hopes and fears that must end at last in the quiet green mounds
at its feet.”

The Castle stands across the valley, where its grey walls, buoyed by a
flagstaff, hardly peep out above the wooded slopes and the thick
greenery that floods the moat. This most picturesquely situated pile
represents a very ancient fortress, held by the Romans, as by ruder
warriors before them, then expanded and strengthened according to the
needs of different times, so as now in its half-dilapidated,
half-restored state, to form a charming medley of ruinous repair,
wreathed with various historic memories, and specially haunted by those
of the last year in which its walls were sternly guarded.

The oldest part is the Norman Keep, raised upon a mound that gives a
fine prospect over Newport and down the Medina. Beautiful views can also
be had from the moated walls within which Carisbrooke’s inner defences
were enclosed by an Italian engineer in the days of the Armada. His work
appears to have been stopped by the failure of that enterprise; had it
been completed after his designs, this would have made the strongest
fortress in Elizabethan England; and it enjoys the distinction of a
virgin stronghold with no record of capture, unless may be counted to
the contrary its honourable surrender by Lady Portland’s tiny garrison
to the Parliamentary forces. The outer entrance bears the date 1598. The
massive inner Gate-house, begun at the same time as the Keep, shows work
of different periods, including recent restoration. Here, as so often in
the Island, something has to be paid for admission; and there are
further small charges for what an irreverent mind might term the
side-shows. The main attraction is the remains of the royal prison that
gives this castle its special interest as scene of almost the latest
English romance in the history of such “grey and ivied walls where ruin
greenly dwells.” Its earliest note

[Illustration: CARISBROOKE CASTLE]

in more misty annals seems to be that here Sir Bevis of Hampton, having
overcome his wicked stepfather, Sir Murdour, caused that traitor to be
boiled to death in a caldron of pitch and brimstone, one of the facts
not now known to “every schoolboy.” But such a well-informed personage
is no doubt aware how the most famous event of this castle’s story was
King Charles’ confinement here.

After his escape from Hampton Court in November 1647, attended by three
gentlemen, the king made for the Solent, and crossed to the Isle of
Wight, believing the Governor, Colonel Hammond, to be favourable to him.
But Hammond, a connection of Cromwell, and son-in-law of John Hampden,
received Charles as a prisoner rather than a sovereign,--at first,
indeed, treated with respect and allowed to ride out hunting about
Parkhurst Forest, with the governor in his train. Carisbrooke was so
slightly guarded, that the king judged it easy to escape when he
pleased. At the end of the year, he did propose to escape to Southampton
down the Medina, but found himself baffled by a change of wind to the
north. After that, he was kept in closer restraint, most of his faithful
attendants being dismissed, and the Castle made a real prison. One
Captain Burley tried to raise a rescue for him at Newport, but was taken
prisoner, to be with legal mockery tried and executed for treason
against the king in his parliament.

Poor Charles was soon stripped of what royal ceremonial had been left
him. For exercise he walked up and down the Tilt Yard turned into a
bowling-green, or round the ramparts, looking sadly out on the green
slopes that bounded his view. He spent much time in reading, writing,
and gloomy meditation. Now, according to a discredited tradition, he
finished that _Eikon Basilike_ which has been almost conclusively shown
to be the work of Dr Thomas Gauden. Nor should his admirers press a
dubious title for him as poet, in the verses entitled _Majesty in
Misery_, that begin by a rather lame invocation--

    Great Monarch of the world, from whose power springs
    The potency and power of kings,
    Record the royal woe my suffering brings,

    And teach my tongue that ever did confine
    Its faculties in truth’s seraphic line,
    To track the treasons of Thy foes and mine.

As sympathising attendants he had Harrington, author of _Oceana_, and
Thomas Herbert, who stuck by him to the end; while one Osborne, put near
him as a spy for the Parliament, seems to have been so far won by the
captive’s woes, that he is found helping an attempt at escape. The most
authentic occupation for the king’s too much leisure was intriguing with
his friends, by means of letters in cipher and other communications
through the trusty servants left him, till this secret correspondence
was tapped by his custodians.

His cause was not yet lost. While Cromwell strove to trim the
captainless ship of State between the extreme Presbyterians and
Levellers, there were signs of reaction in the king’s favour. Fresh
civil war broke out from the still smouldering embers in different
parts. Hamilton with his army of Scots invaded England. Prince Charles
with a loyal section of the fleet hovered upon the east coast from his
base in Holland; and it seems strange that he made no attempt to rescue
his father by a landing on the Island, even when Parliamentary ships
guarded the Solent. The queen, on the continent, was hatching war
against the distracted government _de facto_, which had good reason for
holding her husband fast, lest he should place himself at the head of
any of these movements.

In March a plot had nearly succeeded, by which Charles should have
broken out and ridden away with a band of loyal gentlemen of the Island,
as Mary did from Loch Leven. But he was not so lucky as his bewitching
grandmother. He stuck fast in a barred window, and had to give up the
attempt. Two months later, the bar having been filed or eaten away with
acid, he tried again, but being more closely watched, found Hammond on
the alert and double guards posted on the walls. Now confined in closer
quarters, the king seems to have lost heart. His uncrowned head turned
grey, he let his beard grow, and the once trim cavalier became careless
of his dress. Nor had his gaoler Hammond a happy time of it, who is
found complaining to Cromwell of the “sad and heavy burden” laid upon
him, when he had hoped for peace and quiet in retiring from active
service to this backwater of civil strife.

Yet still Charles might have been saved by a little more of the craft
that had brought him to ruin. In September he was moved to Newport for a
last effort at negotiation between himself and the Parliament, which now
saw reason to dread the army as a more formidable tyrant. But hopes of
an understanding stuck upon the point of religion, the “conscientious
and untrustworthy” king proving firm in his devotion to prelacy. He once
again seems to have thought of escaping, in spite of having given his
word to remain at Newport. Then, while the treaty dragged itself on, the
soldiers, exasperated by renewed bloodshed, raised a cry for sharper
measures. Cromwell began to talk loudly of justice. A band of his
troopers appeared in the Island to “guard” the residence of Charles, who
now refused to escape, as bound by his parole. On the last night of
November, the shifty and irresolute king was forcibly carried off to
Yarmouth by two troops of horse, to be ferried across to Hurst Castle,
and thence, before Christmas, taken to Windsor as prisoner of the army,
that meanwhile, by “Pride’s Purge,” had got rid of the moderate party in
Parliament, putting England under martial law.

After Charles’ execution, Carisbrooke received two more royal prisoners,
Princess Elizabeth and the little Duke of Gloucester, kept in hand as
possible figure-head of a constitutional monarchy, now that his two
elder brothers were out of the Commonwealth’s power. The treatment of
these young captives makes a pleasant contrast to the fate of Louis
XVI.’ss children in their harsh prison, though some extremists had
proposed that the young malignants should be “apprenticed to honest
trades.” A yearly £1000 was granted for their support, £5000 having been
the king’s allowance. But almost at once the poor princess caught cold
through getting wet at a game of bowls, and a month later was laid, as
we saw, in Newport Church. The little duke, addressed as “Master Harry,”
was kept here for two years, then allowed by the Protector to join his
family on the continent, England being by this time provided with a
ruler who made more than a figure-head. This young prince died of
small-pox, just as the Restoration was opening brighter prospects for
his house. A later captive at Carisbrooke was Sir Henry Vane, a man too
good for those troubled times, whose fate was to offend all parties,
driven out of his governorship in Massachusetts, imprisoned by Cromwell,
and executed under Charles II. Sir William Davenant is said also to have
spent part of his imprisonment here.

The scenes traditionally connected with that moving story are shown to
visitors. Relics of the unfortunate Charles and his family are preserved
in a museum above the gateway, a part of the castle restored by way of
memorial to her husband by Princess Henry of Battenburg, who, as
Governor of the Island, is _châtelaine_, her deputy occupying a
habitable portion as keeper. The ruined chapel of St Nicholas in the
courtyard has also been restored, in memory of the king whom modern
historians make not so much of a saint and a martyr. Another sight of
the Castle is its deep well, from which water is drawn by a wheel worked
by a dynasty of donkeys that have the reputation of enjoying longer life
than falls to the lot of most monarchs.

Carisbrooke has a station, a little to the north, on the Freshwater
line. Beyond this, the westward high-road is edged by a front of dark
firs that mark the enclosure of Parkhurst or Carisbrooke Forest, compact
fragment of a once more extensive woodland, swelling up into eminences
of two or three hundred feet. This is Government property, but ways
through it are open for shady rambles, very pleasant on a hot day. A
field-path from Newport, starting by a footbridge beside a prominent
block of brewery buildings just below the station, leads to the
south-east corner of the forest, where workhouse, prison, and barracks
adjoin one another to make up a little town. Parkhurst Prison, whose
inmates one has seen engaged in the idyllic occupation of haymaking
within a fence of fixed bayonets, ranks as a sort of sanatorium among
our convict depôts, to which delicate criminals are sent rather than to
the bleak heights of Portland or Dartmoor.

The soldiers at the barracks are kept in better order than that Scots
regiment that proved such a curse and corruption to the quiet Wight
parishes in Oglander’s time. He represents them as billeted in the
Island “because they should not run away, being constrained for the most
part to serve contrary to their wills”--_volunteers_, as he elsewhere
calls them “a proud, beggarly nation, and I hope we shall never be
troubled with the like [again], especially the red-shanks, or the
Highlanders, being as barbarous in nature as their clothes.” These
strangers, “insolent by reason of their unanimous holding together,”
brought about so many “inconveniences,” murders, rapes, robberies, and
so forth, that when at length they were shipped off to the siege of La
Rochelle, after being reviewed by Charles on Arreton Down, the worthy
knight can record how “we were free from our Egyptian thraldom, or like
Spain from the Moors, for since the Danish slavery never were these
Islanders so oppressed.” In the outspoken fashion of his day, he notes
how the Scots left behind them a considerable strain of northern blood,
which may have been not altogether an evil for a too closely connected
neighbourhood, where, if all tales are true, marrying in and in has
generated a good deal of physical and mental feebleness.

Keats, who seems to have written part of _Endymion_ at Carisbrooke,
denounces the barracks at Parkhurst as a “nest of debauchery.” But at
the worst, they may have been an Arcadian nook compared to that East
India Company’s recruits depôt near Ryde, described by Scott, in _The
Surgeon’s Daughter_, as a gaol of adventurous scum of society swept
together by crimps and kidnappers. Sir Walter must have visited or at
least coasted “the shore of that beautiful island, which he who once
sees never forgets,” when in 1807 he stayed with his friend Stewart Rose
at Gundimore on the Hampshire coast. Since his day, the Island has seen
various samples of Highland soldiers, and found them not too barbarous
either in dress or manners.

By Parkhurst there is a pleasant way to Gurnard Bay, the nearest
bathing-place on the coast. Cowes, under half a dozen miles off, may be
gained by roads on either side the river, or by boat when the tide
serves. The well-shod and wary explorer might trace the Medina upwards
through the Downs, and among the peaty bogs of the “Wilderness” on to
its obscure source behind the Undercliff. On either side the “quarried
downs of Wight” offer fine airy walks with valley villages for goal, or
such points as the ancient British settlement, whose pit dwellings may
be traced by an antiquary’s eye in the hollow below Rowborough Downs,
near the road leading south from Carisbrooke. On the other side of the
Medina, by St George’s Down, is mounted the ridge of chalk stretching to
Brading and Bembridge.

In fact Newport, too much neglected by tourists, unless as a
halting-place, would make an excellent station for visiting the whole
Island. I must be content with taking the reader on by the central
railway to the Undercliff. This goes out from Newport with the line to
Sandown, threading the Downs into the Yar Valley; then at Merston
Junction it turns off towards the southern heights swelling up beyond
Godshill station. But one must not forget to mention Shide, on the
outskirts of Newport, not only as a station for its golf-links on Pan
Down, but as a spot in wider touch with the world than any other on the
Island, for here Dr John Milne, F.R.S., has his Seismological
Observatory, if that be a fit title for an installation of instruments
by which earthquakes, thousands of miles away, are recorded long before
they get into newspapers--some indeed that never get into further
notice, spending their force at the bottom of the sea or in wildernesses
beyond the ken of “our own correspondent.”

Godshill is one of the prettiest of the Island villages, claiming its
name from that oft-told legend of supernatural interference with the
building of a church, which by miraculous power was moved to its present
site on an eminence, where it holds up its tower as a conspicuous
landmark. This church is often visited both for the prospect from it,
and for its architectural merits and interesting memorials. Besides a
sixteenth century altar tomb of Sir John Leigh and monuments of the
Worsley family, it contains a specimen of their once famous art
collection in a picture of _Daniel in the Lion’s Den_, said to be in
part by Rubens, or at least after his style. An older patron is recorded
by a tablet praising one of the benefactors of the Newport Grammar
School.

    Here lies the mortal part of Richard Gard,
    While his freed spirit meets with heaven’s reward;
    His gifts endowed the schools, the needy raised
    And by the latest memory will be praised.
    And may our Isle be filled with such a name,
    And be like him whom virtue clothed with fame;
    Blessed with the poor, the scholars too were blest
    Through such a donor that is gone to rest.

A strange commentary on the truthfulness of epitaphs is the account of
that late lamented given by his contemporary Oglander, declaring him the
knavish son of a French refugee, whose father, Pierre Garde, had been
executed for treason in his own country. An extract on this head makes a
good specimen of Sir John’s random jottings, that open such curious
peeps into the state of his native Island at that date. One takes the
liberty of correcting his spelling; but the style seems past mending.

     Richard, the father, was a notable sly fellow, dishonest and given
     to filching; he brought some tricks out of France with him.
     _Vide_--he would steal a cow, and putting a loaf of bread hot out
     of the oven on her horns, make her horns so supple that they would
     turn any way he pleased, so as to disfigure the beast that the
     owner might not know her again. Many other shifts he had, being a
     man of no great conscience, by which means he recovered some
     wealth, and died. His sons, Richard and Peter, did not degenerate;
     Richard was as crafty a knave as any (except his brother) in a
     whole country; he was good at reading and understanding of old
     evidences, whereby he got many into his hands, and so forced the
     owners to a composition. He was indifferently skilled in law, a
     most penurious base fellow, and of little religion; he died about
     1616, and in his will gave Richard, the eldest son of Peter, the
     better part of his estate, having no children of his

[Illustration: GODSHILL]

     own. He willed his body to be coffined in lead, and to be laid but
     2 foot deep in the earth, in the porch of Godshill Church, as
     unwilling that too much earth should hinder him from rising at the
     resurrection; where we will leave him, to speak of Peter, the
     second brother, and son of Richard the Bandit.

     This Peter had left him by his father a little land at St Helens
     (which how it might be purchased in his own name, being an alien, I
     leave) worth per annum £5. Richard the elder brother being willing
     to cheat his brother Peter of the land, was an importunate suitor
     to buy it of him; the other, as crafty, permitted him to feed him
     with money, and having had half or better of the worth of it, was
     drawn (as he made himself very unwilling) to sign a deed of sale
     thereof to his brother; but he being at that time under age; the
     first act he did when he came of age was to cheat the cheater, and
     nullify that deed by non-age. The enmity then between the two
     brothers was great; they vilified one another, and discovered each
     other’s knavery to the view of the whole Island. I cannot omit one
     in silence, being so notorious. Richard Garde had good store of
     monies, and durst not trust any man with it, no not his own house,
     but hid it in a pot underground in the field, where one Smyth, his
     neighbour, mistrusting some such matter, observed him more
     narrowly, and by watching him found an opportunity to gain the
     hidden pot. The other when he missed it, esteeming it little less
     than his God, had well-near hanged himself, but that he had some
     confidence by the devil’s means to recover it, whereupon the
     brothers, now friends, consult of the means--Peter as the more
     active man undertakes it, goes to a witch near Kingwood, or
     somewhere, and brought home certain hope of the short return of the
     monies; whereupon this Smyth, the Saturday following, was taken on
     Hazely Hill on his return from Newport, and there in a great storm
     was beaten, haled, whipped, misused, and almost killed (had not
     some the next morning found him by chance) not knowing or seeing
     who did act it, but affirmed it was the devil; and being long ill
     after, could not be quiet in conscience till he had brought home
     the pot of silver again to Richard Garde’s house to Binstead,
     according to the true relation formerly made to Peter by the witch.
     Peter, he got still lands and livings, whether by right or wrong I
     suppose he little respected; he was, and is, one of the slyest,
     craftiest knaves that I know; wit and judgment in matters of law he
     hath enough both to serve his own turn and to cozen his neighbours;
     a man worse spoken of I never knew.

A more honourable name was the Worsleys, here commemorated, long one of
the chief families in the Island, that had its principal seat at
Appuldurcombe on the high downs above Godshill. Its most notable member
was Sir Richard Worsley, a cultured Georgian squire, who wrote the
history of the Island in quarto, and on his travels made a celebrated
art collection to adorn the stately classical mansion which he
completed, replacing what had been a Benedictine Abbey. By marriage, the
house and its treasures passed to the Earls of Yarborough, who, half a
century ago left the Island, carrying away the art collection to be
mainly dispersed.

The Lord Yarborough of early Victorian times was a “character,” doughty
commodore of the R.Y.S., who tried to play Canute against the advance of
railways, a prejudice then shared by high and low, as we learn in
Herbert Spencer’s autobiography. His arbitrary lordship had his lands
protected against this radical innovation by a guard charged to take
into custody anybody with a theodolite, or who looked in the least like
a railway engineer. Upon one occasion, a man newly appointed to the
post, meeting his master in a secluded part of the estate, at once
collared him, an incident to be paralleled by Mr John Mytton’s famous
fight, in the disguise of a sweep, with his own keeper.

The mansion, whose name should be strongly accented on the last
syllable, stands in a combe, well displayed against its background of
dark wood. Since it passed to “overners,” it has been turned into an
hotel, then into a school; and a few years ago was acquired by a
community of Benedictine monks exiled from France, thus coming back to
its original owners. As already mentioned, this Order has since acquired
Quarr Abbey, and are spreading their establishments so fast over the
Island, that sound Protestants dread to see given up to cloisters all of
it that is not dedicated to golf.

For laymen and strangers in general the most interesting spot of this
demesne is the Worsley obelisk on the highest point of the Downs, raised
by Sir Richard Worsley to a height of 70 feet, but in 1831 struck by
lightning that shattered its huge blocks of granite into wild confusion.
From this half-ruined landmark the most extensive view in the Island
displays its whole length and breadth, from the chalk cliffs of Culver
to those about the Needles.

The railway, whose whistle might make that prejudiced Lord Yarborough
turn in his grave, of course keeps clear of far prospects, taking a
break in the Downs to thread its way through by Whitwell, which has a
remarkable restored church, originally composed of two chapels, one
belonging to Gatcombe, some miles north-west, once seat of another
branch of the Worsley family, and having an ancient church of its own.
Thus the line drops down into the rich greenery of the Undercliff, at St
Lawrence turning eastward above the shore, to reach Ventnor beside
Steephill Castle.



THE EAST SIDE


The more direct route from Ryde to Ventnor is by road, rail, or boat
along the east coast. From the Newport line diverges the old Ventnor
railway, at Brading sending off a branchlet for Bembridge, then holding
on behind Sandown and Shanklin. Thus on this side are strung together
the oldest and one of the youngest settlements of the Isle of Wight.

Brading, an hour’s walk from Ryde, seems an insignificant place now; but
it claims to have been the ancient metropolis of the Island in days when
St Helens was its chief port. Brading Harbour, still a tidal creek that
at high water dignifies the landscape, once made a wider and deeper
gulf, which guide-books of a century back describe as an inland lake set
in woods. Time was, says Sir John Oglander, that boats came up to the
middle of Brading Street, and in the haven below there would be choice
of twenty good shipmasters to undertake any voyage. Then the harbour
having become choked by unwholesome marshes, an attempt was made to
embank them, in which work Sir Hugh Middleton of New River fame had a
hand, and certain “ignorant Dutchmen” were brought over to put in
practice the art to which they owed their own native soil. But the
Dutchmen’s dykes broke down; and the land was not thoroughly reclaimed
till our own time saw the enterprise accomplished by that “Liberator”
Company of else evil renown.

Thus Brading came to be gradually stranded some mile or two inland. The
townlet, that once sent two members to Parliament, has relics to show of
its old dignity, its bull ring, its stocks, and its Norman Church, rich
in monuments, notably the Oglander Chapel enshrining tombs of a family
settled at Nunwell on Brading Down for many centuries, among them the
effigy of that Sir John Oglander, whose memoranda have been so much
drawn on by later writers. He tells how then “many score” of Oglanders
lay in this oldest church of the Island, where the latest addition to
the family chapel is a fine monument to his descendant of the Victorian
age.

The churchyard contains more than one celebrated epitaph, such as that
set to music by Dr Calcott--

    Forgive, blest shade, the tributary tear!

and another on a child--

    This lovely bud, so young, so fair,
    Called hence by early doom,
    Just came to show how sweet a flower
    In Paradise would bloom.

Here was buried “Jane the young Cottager,” whose humble name has been
spread far by Legh Richmond, curate of this parish at the end of the
eighteenth century. It is to be feared that his writings are not so well
known to our generation as they once were in the religious world, for he
belonged to that school of Evangelical saints, who dwelt more on “Gospel
truths” than on “sound Church feeling”; and his long-spun deathbed
scenes are hardly to the taste of readers who have learned to look for
more piquant flavours in the literature of edification. But in the Isle
of Wight, where Protestantism puts down its foot the more firmly for
recent Catholic invasion, this kindly pastor’s “Annals of the Poor”
still seem to find a sale, as they once did in many languages. Mr
Boucher James goes so far as to say that “in a small way Legh Richmond
did for the Isle of Wight what Walter Scott did for the Scottish
Highlands,” by drawing tourists to seek out the scenes of his tracts. At
all events he deserves the brass now placed to his memory in Brading
Church.[2]

The much restored Church claims to represent that first erected on the
same site by Wilfred, apostle of the Island. But another lion of Brading
is older than its church, though unknown to Legh Richmond’s generation.
This is the Roman villa, discovered a generation ago by Mr Hilton Price,
Director of the Society of Antiquaries, which boasts itself to be the
finest of such miniature Pompeiis in England. It stands about a mile to
the south-west, near Yarbridge, the way being easily found, since
direction posts are never wanting in the Isle of Wight where there is
anything to pay for admission; and the tarred sheds that protect the
remains stand conspicuous against a chalk cutting on the Downs. A score
or so apartments have been unearthed, in some of which were found many
relics of the Roman occupation, the most interesting part of the show
being the tesselated pavements with their mosaic designs. There appear
traces of two successive ownerships, and of the villa having been
destroyed by fire, perhaps on the evacuation of Britain by the Roman
troops. The complete building seems to have been composed of the
_Urbana_, or master’s dwelling, the _Rustica_, or quarters for
dependents, and the _Fructuaria_, store-houses and offices, arranged on
three sides of a rectangle.

From Brading the central line of downs runs westward for half-a-dozen
miles to the valley of the Medina. On the height known as Ashey Down, a
stone pyramid, erected as a sea-mark, makes one of the favourite
view-points, looking over half the Island and across the Solent to
Portsmouth. Further along, below a crest marked by Saxon burrows,
Arreton has a fine prospect upon the valley of the Yar to the south.
This is one of the Island’s show villages, where excursion coaches stop
to let their passengers see the Church with its medley of Gothic
features, and the grave of the “Dairyman’s Daughter,” another of Legh
Richmond’s heroines, lying at peace among warriors and knights of old.
The old manor-house of this scattered village bears marks of bygone
dignity; but destruction has come upon Knighton, which a century or so
back could still be called the stateliest hall of the Island.

In the _Dairyman’s Daughter_, Legh Richmond turns his thoughts from
heaven to earth to give a description of what one surveys from the Ashey
Down sea-mark; one may omit some final features which have altered since
his day, as well as the moral drawn by the good clergyman from the fact
that so “much of the natural beauties of Paradise still remain in the
world.”

     Southward the view was terminated by a long range of hills, at
     about six miles distance. They met, to the westward, another chain
     of hills, of which the one whereon I sat formed a link, and the
     whole together nearly encompassed a rich and fruitful valley,
     filled with corn-fields and pastures. Through this vale winded a
     small valley for many miles; much cattle were feeding on its banks.
     Here and there lesser eminences arose in the valley; some covered
     with wood, others with corn or grass, and a few with heath or fern.
     One of these little hills was distinguished by a parish church at
     the top, presenting a striking feature in the landscape. Another of
     these elevations, situated in the centre of the valley, was adorned
     with a venerable holly-tree, which has grown there for ages. Its
     singular height and wide-spreading dimensions not only render it an
     object of curiosity to the traveller, but of daily usefulness to
     the pilot, as a mark visible from the sea, whereby to direct his
     vessel safe into harbour. Villages,

[Illustration: WATER MEADOWS OF THE YAR NEAR ALVERSTONE]

     churches, country-seats, farmhouses, and cottages were scattered
     over every part of the southern valley....

     South-eastward, I saw the open ocean, bounded only by the horizon.
     The sun shone, and gilded the waves with a glittering light that
     sparkled in the most brilliant manner. More to the east, in
     continuation of that line of hills where I was placed, rose two
     downs, one beyond the other; both covered with sheep, and the sea
     just visible over the farthest of them, as a terminating boundary.
     In this point, ships were seen, some sailing, others at anchor.
     Here the little river, which watered the southern valley, finished
     its course, and ran through meadows into the sea, in an eastward
     direction.

     On the north the sea appeared like a noble river, varying from
     three to seven miles in breadth, between the banks of the opposite
     coast and those of the island which I inhabited. Immediately
     underneath me was a fine woody district of country, diversified by
     many pleasing objects. Distant towns were visible on the opposite
     shore. Numbers of ships occupied the sheltered station which this
     northern channel afforded them. The eye roamed with delight over an
     expanse of near and remote beauties, which alternately caught the
     observation, and which harmonised together, and produced a scene of
     peculiar interest.

     Westward the hills followed each other, forming several
     intermediate and partial valleys, in a kind of undulations, like
     the waves of the sea; and, bending to the south, completed the
     boundary of the larger valley before described, to the southward of
     the hill on which I sat.

This river Yar, not to be confounded with its namesake on the other side
of the Island, rises in the southern downs that bound the prospect over
its valley. At Brading, it finds a gap through the northern heights,
beyond which it winds sluggishly into that shrunken harbour. Above the
left side stands St Helens, with its wide green and fringe of leafy
lanes, having moved up from a lower site, where an ivied fragment of the
old church shows its whitewashed face to the sea as a beacon. The sandy
spit here has also been turned to use for golf-links, that helped
yachting to make the fortune of Bembridge. The Island seems now in a
fair way of being half laid out in golf grounds, but these were the
first, or among the first, which, though small, had the advantage of a
mild climate to invite enthusiasts in winter, when elsewhere red balls
would be necessary for their absorbing pastime. Links for ladies are a
later addition, on the opposite side of the river, that the eyes of
neither sex may be distracted from a foursome to what might become a
twosome game of life.

Bembridge itself, linked to St Helens by a ferry boat, nestles very
prettily on the wooded point opposite. The nucleus of nautically named
inns and cottages is much overlaid by hotel and lodging-house
accommodation, and by villas whose owners declare Bembridge to be the
Island’s pleasantest spot. One of its chief attractions, after golf, is
the view of shipping in the Solent mouth; but it has some pretty spots
on land, such as the avenue running inland from the bathing beach. To
the south it is sheltered by the Foreland, the most easterly point, over
which we may hold by mounting lanes, or take a rough path round the
shore, tide permitting, that has also to be considered in boating about
the dangerous Bembridge Ledges roughening the sea at low water.

Thus we pass on to the curve of Whitecliff Bay, where the chalk of the
Downs is broken by an expanse of Eocene beds, making for the geologist a
foretaste

[Illustration: SANDOWN BAY]

of that more glowing transformation scene shown in Alum Bay at the
Island’s western end. The Culver Cliffs at this end are protected by a
fort which has masked the Hermit’s Hole, a cave once used by smugglers.
On the other side of Bembridge is a small fortress, now so far behind
the times that it was lately advertised as suitable for a private
residence or an hotel.

Beyond Whitecliff Bay, the cliffs curve into the block of Bembridge
Down, crowned by a modern fort that has usurped the originally more
conspicuous site of Lord Yarborough’s monument, now neighboured by a
Marconi Telegraph Station. On the southern slope are the tiny Norman
Church and decayed manor-house of Yaverland, which makes a scene in the
_Dairyman’s Daughter_. Here we have come round to Sandown Bay, the
largest and openest in the Island, reached byroad and rail from Brading
through the gap at Yarbridge.

Sandown stands in a break of the cliffs, behind the centre of its bay,
compared of course to the Bay of Naples by those who never saw Vesuvius.
With its hotels, rows of smart lodging-houses, batteries of
bathing-machines, esplanade, arcade, and other very modern features,
this seems one of the most growing places in the Island; and I trust
Sandown will not take it amiss to be described as perhaps the most
commonplace resort here, or at least the most like the ordinary
Saturday-to-Monday. Its strong point is wide, firm sands for children,
and, on a common behind the town, excellent golf-links for their
elders, about the height known as “Majuba Hill,” the views from which
are complained of by votaries as interfering with strict attention to
their game. The summer season of this bathing-place is so prosperous
that some day its esplanade and Shanklin’s may stretch out to meet along
the couple of miles of cliff walk separating them. As link between them
springs up Lake, with its sumptuous “Home of Rest,” and its headquarters
of Isle of Wight cricket, behind the cliff descent at Littlestairs.

Sandown Pier has met with rough handling from winter waves, to which,
however, the enterprising town will not give in so easily as did King
Canute, whose renowned object-lesson against pride, according to legend,
had its scene not far off, across the Solent. The railway station, which
stands some way back from the sea, is a junction of lines to Newport,
Ventnor, and Ryde, so that Sandown visitors can easily reach more
picturesque corners of the Island, or can soon gain the Downs framing
the green valley of the Yar. Up this valley the first station is
Alverston, near a knoll known as Queen’s Bower, from the tradition that
upon it Isabella de Fortibus watched the chase in what was then Bordwood
Forest. Near the next station, on an eminence beside the river, stands
up the ancient fane of Newchurch, a parish that, in spite of its name,
is old enough to have once included both Ryde and Ventnor in its ample
bounds. Then by Harringford Station below Arreton Down, the line comes
to Merston Junction, there forking north and south.

In old days Sandown, then known rather as Sandham, was distinguished by
a “castle,” which has given place to less imposing but more formidable
modern forts, serving as models for sand-engineering to the troops of
children encamped here in summer. Its only other historical association
seems to be as retreat of the notorious John Wilkes in his old age,
cheered by more gentle pursuits than might be expected of a so
unedifying demagogue. He was given to rearing pigeons, as well as to
collecting books and china, at his Sandown “Villakin,” a sort of tawdry
miniature of Horace Walpole’s show, to which the owner’s notoriety
attracted many visitors. One describes him as walking about his grounds
“in Arcadian costume,” raking up weeds with a hoe and destroying vipers.
He complained that the pigeons he got from England, Ireland, and France
always took the first chance of flying home, so that he had almost given
up pigeon-keeping, “when I bethought myself to procure a cock and hen
pouter from Scotland: I need not add that _they never returned_.” This
cockney bitterness against North Britons, it will be remembered, made a
common subject between Dr Johnson and the ex-Lord Mayor, when Boswell
had his wish of bringing them together. Wilkes showed one visitor a pond
in the garden stocked with carp, tench, perch, and eels, because, he
said, fish could not be had by the seaside. Here he also employed
himself in writing the memoirs which he had the decency to destroy. The
toothless old rip, with one foot in the grave, bragged how his squinting
eye had done great execution with the pretty farmers’ daughters at
Newport market: well known is his boast, that, monster of ugliness as he
was, he could “talk away his face,” so as to be only a quarter of an
hour behind the handsomest man. Another story is that when, on his last
crossing of the Solent, the vessel was becalmed, he jocularly affected
to take this as a presage of death, since he had never been able to live
in a calm; but his retreat at Sandown seems to have been quiet enough
for Cowper or Hannah More.

If, to set off against that ribald sojourner of its neighbour’s,
Shanklin wanted to boast a notorious character, it was a generation ago
the headquarters, as perhaps rather it would prefer to forget, of one of
the most audacious criminals of our time, whose life, so far as I know,
has never been written, unless in criminal calendars. His real name, it
appears, was Benson, which does not figure in the Dictionary of National
Biography, though it deserves a place there beside Claude Duval’s and
George Barrington’s; while I am mistaken if it were not qualified by
nationality. On this side of the Channel he called himself a Frenchman;
but he spoke French and English equally well, as would hardly have been
the case, had he not passed his youth in England. He was certainly a
Jew, of typically Jewish aspect. His adventurous career would make a
theme for the pen that chronicled Jonathan Wild’s; and if I offer a
sketch of it, _faute de mieux_, it is because I had the advantage of
knowing him. He did me the honour of trying to make me one of his dupes,
in which enterprise, I am glad to say, he succeeded less well than in
other cases; and I did not care to cultivate an acquaintance which he
pressed upon me. But with a little help from hearsay and surmise, I
believe I can supply an outline of his history, wrapped as it was in
clouds of deceit.

He was, I am told, the son of a prosperous Jewish tradesman established
at Paris, who had means to put him in a position of respectability, if
not of wealth, “instead of which,” young Benson from his youth took to
knavery like a duck to the water. I have heard that in early life he had
been connected with the French or the Belgian press; and he showed some
familiarity with journalism, which he sought to turn to account in his
swindling schemes. That part of his life, indeed, lies in deep shadow,
which might be cleared up by research among police _dossiers_ of the
continent.

His first notable _coup_ in England seems to have been during the
Franco-Prussian War, when he flew at such high game as the very Lord
Mayor. A French town had been burned by the Prussians. While this
disaster was still fresh on our news sheets, there burst into the
Mansion House a voluble gentleman professing to be the mayor of that
town, come to throw himself on the generosity of the great English
nation. Our sympathetic Lord Mayor handed out a thousand pounds; and it
was whispered at the time that this plausible guest carried off also the
heart of his lordship’s daughter. The clever trick ended in detection,
arrest, and two years’ imprisonment; then by way of varying the monotony
of Newgate, Benson tried to set fire to his cell, but succeeded only in
burning himself about the spine, so as to be henceforth a helpless
cripple. There were some who surmised that he made the most of this
injury as helping out his disguise of deceit; but I never saw his slight
figure unless as recumbent on a couch, or carried like a child in the
arms of a big Frenchman, who passed as his valet, being really one of
the swindling gang of which Benson was the brain. His crippled state was
put down to a railway accident.

After his release from Newgate comes a period of obscurity, from which
he emerges about 1875 as living in some style at Shanklin, with a London
_pied à terre_ in Cavendish Square, a brougham, and everything genteel
about him. It was at this time I made his acquaintance. He then passed
under the name of Yonge, with some explanation which I forget; but he
confided to me and to others how he was really the Count de Montague, a
Frenchman engaged in conspiring for the Empire, business that was to
account for the seclusion in which he lived. This struck me as dubious:
in those days, before dynamite outrages, one could conspire at the
pitch of one’s voice in the middle of Piccadilly without anyone caring
to interfere. Moreover, in writing to me, he signed himself _De
Montagu_, whereas, for a more favoured friend, he decorated the name
with a final _e_. It took little Sherlock Holmes’ faculty to detect that
a French nobleman ought to know how to spell his own name; but I am glad
to say that from my first sight of the “Count,” I distrusted a gentleman
whose dress and manners seemed too fine to be true. He never deceived me
by his pretensions; and his overdone elegance served to set others on
their guard. Indeed, like Joseph Andrews, he might have passed for a
nobleman with one who had not seen many noblemen.

For not being taken in by him, I have perhaps to thank my deficiencies.
His chief accomplishment, it seems, was playing the piano like an angel,
which left me cold, while it drew tuneful flies into his web of treasons
and stratagems. Some women were much taken by his feline manners, which
on others produced such a feeling of repulsion as was my experience. One
family became so captivated as to act as his social sponsors in the Isle
of Wight, where he was received with open arms. If I remember right, it
was a house belonging to this family which he tenanted; and rumour went
that his admiring landlady’s eyes were hardly opened even by the
exposure that cost her dear. Several writers for the press were brought
into relations with him through a well-known author, who has to confess
that he allowed his honesty to be deceived. When urged to search closer
into Benson’s antecedents, he was content to let himself be put off with
audacity. “Go to the French Ambassador!” exclaimed that plausible knave;
but no such inquiry was carried out; and his most solid credentials were
from a London bank, that knew nothing of him but his having a
considerable balance to draw upon.

How he got the means to figure thus as a wealthy foreigner, I know not;
but I have a good guess as to a main aim of his schemes which never came
to light. At this time he was concerned in founding a periodical which
was to champion religion, loyalty, honesty, and other causes he
professed to have at heart. He knew very little about the higher walks
of the press; and his design wavered between a newspaper and a
half-crown monthly. In the latter form the organ financed by him did
appear, soon to be eclipsed. Its name and short history are best
forgotten. The pious founder, not being so ready with his pen as with
his tongue, proposed to me to write an article on certain money-market
matters, the tone and facts of which article were to be dictated by him.
He was such a shallow knave that he did not take the precaution of
carefully testing my likelihood to be a fit tool in his hands; and at my
first interview with him, he took for granted that I knew nothing of
French; then, by the way in which he and his valet _parlez-voused_ to
each other before my face, I soon got a suspicion they were not master
and servant.

By no means prepossessed in his favour by the ease with which he
reckoned on catching me, I refused to enlist myself as literary bravo in
affairs quite beyond my scope. He did find a more subservient scribe to
write such an article as he had outlined, which the publisher refused to
print as libellous; then Benson was for bringing an action against the
firm by way of advertisement for his organ, now launched with a great
flourish of trumpets. This was at a time when certain papers had done
more or less good service, to themselves and the public, by exposing
scandals in the financial world. On that example, I believe Benson aimed
at gaining a character for audacious honesty, then using it to rig the
money-market to his own profit _quo cumque modo_, or to levy blackmail
in a manner since perfected by certain “financial” papers that are the
disgrace of our journalism.

I never understood why he took some pains to enlist me as his
accomplice, or could imagine that he had found in me a congenial spirit.
More than once he asked me to his house in the Isle of Wight; but it
proved well that I never accepted any hospitality from him. To oblige my
friend the editor, whose only fault in the matter was a generous
trustfulness, I did write for his organ on subjects in my own line; but
my misgivings held me back from personal intercourse with the
proprietor. The last time I saw him was at a dinner party, some way out
of London, given to make him acquainted with the staff of his literary
enterprise. He had now come to whispering that he was no less than a
prince, who for certain reasons preferred to be _incognito_; and some of
us needy scribblers were much impressed by his condescension. He pressed
on me the honour of having a lift back to town in his carriage, which I
accepted very unwillingly, so strong had grown my suspicions. On our
drive, I remember, the main drift of his conversation was contempt for
the company we had just left; and he abused the host for asking the like
of him to meet such outsiders; but I did not respond to the flattery
implied in such confidences, with which once more he seemed inviting me
to intimacy. I congratulated myself on my reserve, when next week a
reward of £1000 was offered for the arrest of this pseudo-prince, set in
his true light by a notorious trial that followed in the spring of 1877,
after he had been run to earth in Scotland, somewhere about the Bridge
of Allan.

This was known as the Turf Frauds case; but I forgot the precise details
of the ingenious swindle which Benson, along with several accomplices,
was convicted of practising on a French lady, the Comtesse de Goncourt.
As ringleader, and as formerly convicted of forgery, he was sentenced to
fifteen years’ imprisonment. In the course of the trial, it came out
that he had managed to corrupt some of the minor officials of Newgate,
and to keep up relations outside, by whose help this cripple had plotted
a daring escape. Then, his fate being decided, he sought to gain some
remission of his punishment by turning informer on another set of
accomplices; and the public was amazed, not to say dismayed, to learn
that several of the detective inspectors of Scotland Yard had been in
this scoundrel’s pay, hobnobbing with him as his guests, and serving
warnings on him instead of the warrants entrusted to them. The story is
too long to tell that came out in a three weeks’ sensational trial at
the end of the same year. One or two of the accused detectives got off
in a cloud of suspicion; but the others, as well as a solicitor who had
been leagued with them, convicted chiefly on Benson’s evidence, were
sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, from which a couple of
ex-inspectors emerged to start in the shady profession of private
inquiry agents.

I am not sure if Benson served his full term in England; but it was many
years afterwards that I heard of him as having again got into trouble in
Switzerland. This time, he must have come off easily, for when three or
four more years had passed, he is seen seeking fortune in the New World.
Here his last trick was as ingenious and bold as his first appearance at
the Mansion House. A great singer, Madame Patti if I mistake not, was
eagerly expected at the Opera House of Mexico City. A few days in
advance of her, came to the Iturbide Hotel a polite gentleman giving
himself out as her agent. This was Benson, who, having sold all the
boxes and stalls, made off with his plunder in a special train, and
managed to get out of the country, but was arrested, I understand, in
New York, to be held for extradition. It is probable that Mexican penal
servitude has terrors even for habitués of Newgate and Dartmoor. At all
events, poor Benson, in despair, committed suicide by throwing himself
over a landing in his prison. So ended my would-be host in the Isle of
Wight, where he entertained worthier guests than me, not to speak of his
train of friendly detectives.

This is but an ugly story to tell of such a pretty place as Shanklin, an
older and a choicer resort than Sandown, favoured by visitors both in
winter and summer, and with a good share of permanent residents
attracted by its charms. As in the case of Lynton and Lynmouth, Shanklin
has a double character. By the sea has sprung up a new bathing-place
with a smart esplanade, showy pier, a disfiguringly convenient lift to
the top of the cliff, and everything spick and span. The old Shanklin
behind offers a contrast in its nucleus of embowered cottages, and its
irregular High Street hugging an inland hollow, about which villas are
half-buried in blooming gardens and clumps of foliage, like the huge
myrtles that enclose the little parsonage near the churchyard in its
grove of gravestones. But for some rawer rows of houses stretching out
towards the cliff, upper Shanklin has lost little of the charm that
struck Lord Jeffrey,

[Illustration: SHANKLIN VILLAGE--MOONLIGHT AFTER RAIN]

when he described the village as “very small and _scattery_, all mixed
up with trees, and lying among sweet airy falls and swells of ground
which finally rise up behind the breezy Downs 800 feet high, and sink
down in front to the edge of the varying cliffs which overhang a pretty
beach of fine sand, and are approachable by a very striking wooded
ravine which they call the Chine.”

An earlier visitor was Keats, who is understood to have written his
_Lamia_ in a cottage, not now standing, about the opening rechristened
“Keats’ Green” in honour of this sojourn, when, to tell the truth, he
wrote of the Isle of Wight as “but so, so,” though he admired the coast
from Shanklin to Bonchurch, as well he might. Longfellow, who wrote an
inscription for a fountain near his hotel, called Shanklin “one of the
quietest and loveliest places in the kingdom,” with which, indeed, his
acquaintance had not been exhaustive.

Shanklin and Sandown, the most growing resorts of the Island of late
years, love one another like Liverpool and Manchester, like Ramsgate and
Margate, like St Paul’s and Minneapolis, and other pairs of too near
rivals for popularity. Careful parents may prefer Sandown as a place
where their youngsters will find nothing to fall off; but poetic and
artistic souls will give their vote for Shanklin, which has chalybeate
springs and elaborate baths as attraction, as well as beautiful
surroundings. Its beauty spot _par excellence_ is, of course, the Chine
above mentioned, which makes one of the shows of the Island. The
Chines, so named here and on the opposite mainland coast--but in one
part of Hampshire _Bunny_ is a less romantic title for them--are deep,
irregular ravines carved out by streams of water upon cliffs of soft
clay or sand, often sheltering a profusion of tangled vegetation, or
again, as at Bournemouth, revealing the frame of naked nature. The
Shanklin Chine, in the former variety, is by many judged the prettiest,
as it is perhaps the best known to visitors. A description of it may be
borrowed from Black’s _Guide to the Isle of Wight_.

     This popular sight, like other wonders of nature on the Island, is
     enclosed, a small charge being made for admission, and in more than
     one respect rather suggests the tea-garden order of resort, but
     nothing can spoil it. It is to be entered at either end, but
     excursion coaches usually bring their passengers to the head of the
     Chine. At the top will be found a ferruginous spring. Here the
     chasm is at its narrowest, increasing till it has a breadth of
     nearly 300 feet, while the steep sides are in parts almost 200 feet
     high. Winding walks take one for some quarter of a mile down a deep
     glen, which differs notably from Blackgang Chine in being choked up
     with trees and a rich undergrowth of ferns, moss, and brushwood,
     wherever any shade-loving plant can take root. Into the top pours a
     little waterfall, rushing to the sea at the bottom of this
     wilderness of greenery.

But even without its Chine, Shanklin would have a right to be proud of
itself. It lies at the corner of the southern range of Downs that
separate it from Ventnor and the Undercliff. Open and airy walks may be
taken on these heights; or less arduous strolls by the leafy knolls and
hollows on their flanks. One favourite ramble is to Cook’s Castle, an
artificial ruin

[Illustration: SHANKLIN CHINE]

upon a wooded brow commanding a fine view, whence it is a short mile to
Wroxall, the next station on the railway as it bends inland, to find
nothing for it but a tunnel through the heights that shelter Ventnor.

From the bottom of Shanklin Chine, when the tide is out, one can follow
the coast round the fissured crags of Dunnose, on which a cliff-walk is
always open. Thus is reached Luccombe Chine, a modestly retiring scene,
not so easily found, since there is no charge for admission; but well
worth finding. Beyond this one enters the tangled wilderness of the
Landslip, through which winds a path for Bonchurch. But here we come
within the purlieus of Ventnor, and round to the “Back of the Island.”

From the heights at this corner, one looks down upon the scene of one of
the saddest of naval disasters in our day, recorded in churchyards that
show the tombs of so many young lives. Off Dunnose was lost, in 1878,
the training ship _Eurydice_, with her company of hearty and hopeful
lads. I well remember how that Sunday afternoon the March wind blustered
on the northern heights of London. But under the lee of the Undercliff,
the homeward bound sailors hailed it as a favouring breeze; then with
ports open and under all plain canvas, the _Eurydice_ spanked on round
Dunnose, passing out of shelter of the Downs, to be taken aback by a
snow squall, that threw her on her beam-ends before the men could
shorten sail. Many of them must have been drowned as they rushed to
struggle up on deck, from which others were swept away, blinded by the
snow, or drawn down in the vortex of the sinking vessel. Three or four
came to be picked up, an hour later, by a passing collier, and only two
lived to tell the amazement of their sudden wreck, whose victims had
much the same fate as those of the _Royal George_.

    Gone in a moment! hurried headlong down
    From light and hope to darkness and despair!
    Plunged into utter night without renown,
    Bereft of all--home, country, earth, and air--
    Without a warning, yea, without a prayer!



THE UNDERCLIFF


The “Back of the Island” is a familiar name given locally to the south
coast, its eastern end more widely famed as the Undercliff. All this
side is marked by sterner features and sharper outlines than the shallow
creeks and flats of the northern shore; and through its geological
history the Undercliff makes a peculiar exhibition of picturesqueness,
while by its winter climate it is one of England’s most favoured nooks.

Here a narrow strip of shore lies for miles walled in to the north by a
steep bank several hundred feet high, sometimes presenting a rugged face
of sandstone cliff, elsewhere rising in the turf swell of chalk downs.
But the bastions of rock thus displayed rest upon a treacherous
foundation of gault clay, expressively known as the “Blue slipper,”
which, saturated with water, has given way so as to cause repeated
landslides and falls of the super-incumbent strata, tumbling the lower
slopes into a broken chaos of terraces and knolls, dotted with boulders
of chalk and sandstone. This ruin of nature has long been overgrown by
rich greenery, mantling its asperities, all the more since the charms
and mildness of the situation go to making it a much trimmed wilderness,
populated with villages and villas that turn the Undercliff into one
great garden of choice and luxuriant vegetation.

The capital of the Undercliff is Ventnor, whose dependencies and
outposts straggle almost all along this sheltered coast-strip. Now the
most beautifully placed and the most widely admired town in the Island,
it has risen to such note within the memory of men still living. A
century ago Sir H. Englefield gives it a word as “a neat hamlet,” while
guide-books of his day do not even name it between the older villages of
St Lawrence and Bonchurch, that on either side wing its body of terraces
and zigzag streets. Its history seems illustrated in the old “Crab and
Lobster” Inn, from a modest haunt of fishermen developed into a spacious
hotel, and still more plainly in the monuments of so many a young life
close packed about its nineteenth century churches. It was Sir James
Clarke, an esteemed physician of our great-grandfathers’ day, who dubbed
Ventnor an English Madeira, and brought it into medical repute as a
rival of Torquay, both of them disputing the honour of having the
mildest winter climate in England, which probably belongs rather to the
Cornish coast, or to other claimants still wanting a _vates sacer_, that
is, a London doctor to give them bold advertisement.

The shift in medical opinion as to the cure of consumption by pure and
dry air, however cold, must have somewhat blown upon Ventnor’s
reputation; and it may in future come to depend upon its amenities as
much as on the soft climate, now that Mentone itself seems rather shy of
its old character as a rendezvous for consumptive germs. It has a summer
as well as a winter season; but there is not much to be said for its
bathing and boating, the shore here being rougher than on the east side,
and exposed to dangerous currents. The beach before the esplanade has
been tamed a little and brought under the yoke of bathing machines.
Further along there are here and there tempting strips of sand; but
swimmers may be cautioned as to launching forth too trustfully. The same
hint applies to boating, this coast being best navigated with the help
of someone who knows its reefs and eddies. Ventnor visitors are more
ready to make jaunts on land than by sea; and in fine weather their
favourite amusement is supplied by the coaches, brakes, and other
vehicles which carry them to all parts of the Island. There are daily
excursions in the season to Freshwater, Cowes, and other remote points;
besides morning and afternoon trips to Blackgang, Shanklin, and such
nearer goals; and the stranger will have much ado to deny the
insinuating recruiters who at every corner of the High Street lie in
wait to enlist him for their crew of pleasure-seekers.

The strong point of the town is its picturesque site, which, indeed,
implies the defects of its qualities, having been termed “fit for
kangaroos” by some short-winded critic. Nature never meant herself here
to be laid out in streets, and eligible plots of building land have to
be taken as they can be found on the steep slope. This fact, however
favourable to scenic effect, proves a little trying to those feeble folk
who make so large a part of the population. Communication with the
different levels of the town, where the climate varies according to
their degree of elevation and protection, has to be effected by steep
stairs, winding ascents, and devious roads; and often one’s goal seems
provokingly near, while it turns out to be tiresomely far by the only
available access. One thoroughfare is so precipitous that a railing has
been provided for the aid of those risking its descent. The twisting
High Street debouches into a hollow, prettily laid out, about which are
the most sheltered parts of the town. Here stands the pier with its
shelters and pavilion; and a short esplanade curves round the little bay
to a rocky point, from which other zigzags remount to the higher
quarters. There has been a proposal to extend this esplanade along the
Bonchurch side of the shore, where the gasworks certainly do not form a
very pleasant or convenient obstruction; but on the whole it appears
better to leave Ventnor as it is. Its great charm consists of being as
unlike as possible to the general type of seaside resorts; and its
irregular architecture, wilful roads, and provoking impasses are at
least in harmony with each other.

Let us see how it strikes a stranger--Mr W. D. Howells, to wit--on a
recent visit.

     The lovely little town, which is like an English water-colour, for
     the rich, soft blur of its greys and blues and greens, has a sea at
     its feet of an almost Bermudian variety of rainbow tints, and a
     milky horizon all its own, with the sails of fishing-boats drowning
     in it like moths that had got into the milk. The streets rise in
     amphitheatrical terraces from the shore, and where they cease to
     have the liveliness of watering-place shops, they have the
     domesticity of residential hotels and summer boarding-houses, and
     private villas set in depths of myrtle and holly and oleander and
     laurel: some of the better-looking houses were thatched, perhaps to
     satisfy a sentiment for rusticity in the summer boarder or tenant.

But this appreciative stranger is a little at sea in freely dashing into
his sketch a background of “seats and parks of nobility and gentry,”
which seems somewhat of an American exaggeration for the villaed skirts
of Ventnor. The most lordly “seat” about Ventnor is Steephill Castle, at
the west end, from the tower of which flaunts his own Stars and Stripes
to proclaim it the home of a compatriot who must have reason to chuckle,
as he does in a volume of memoirs, that slow, simple, honest John Bull
now wakes up to let himself be exploited by Transatlantic enterprise.
This gentleman’s daughter was the late popular novelist “John Oliver
Hobbes,” who latterly lived much here, or in the neighbourhood. The
modern castle, that has housed an empress in its time, took the place of
a cottage of gentility built by Hans Stanley, George III.’s Governor of
the Island. It formerly belonged to the Hamborough family, whose heir
met with his death in a painful way, that gave rise to what was known
as the Ardlamont murder case.

The trustees of this family have lately been at loggerheads with the
Ventnor people as to enclosing the links by the shore. Part of the cliff
here, however, has been acquired as a prettily unconventional public
park, laid out with playing greens beneath its leafy mazes and airy
walks. At this end, opposite the west gate of the park, is the station
of the mid-island line, distinguished as “Ventnor Town,” whereas
“Ventnor” station of the older east coast rail stands so high above the
sea that access to it suggests the “stations” of a pilgrimage. The last
time I was in Ventnor, I had the pleasure of being able to assist some
countrywomen of Mr Howell’s whom I found fluttering in breathless doubt
between those two confusing goals, that ought to be joined by some kind
of mountain railway.

One advantage of having attained the upper station, is that here one is
half-way up the steep bank rising behind Ventnor to be the highest point
of the Island, nearly 800 feet. This down bears the name of St Boniface,
in honour of whom passing ships used to lower their topsails. The ridge
is reached by chalky paths from a road near the station, and from other
approaches at the top of the town; and however stuffy the air may be
below, the perspiring climber will not fail to find invigoration on the
open crest. For goal of the ascent, there is a wishing-well, as to which
old tradition has it that, if you reach the spot, Orpheus-like, without
casting a backward glance, the wish you may form while drinking of its
welcome spring will speedily be fulfilled. Certainly no finer view could
be wished for than one gains from the summit and along a wide stretch of
rambles on either hand. Holding on round a horse-shoe hollow, one may
turn down on the right to Shanklin; or, in the other direction, crossing
the rail and road to Ryde at Wroxall, pass over to the heights of
Appuldurcombe, where the Worsley monument makes a beacon. Hence another
lofty sweep brings one back to Ventnor by Week Down and Rew Down, used
as a golf ground, which must try the strength of elderly devotees on
their preliminary ascent to the clubhouse, standing out like an Alpine
chapel.

The stiff-kneed pilgrim who has not heart for such arduosities, may
follow the road along the face of St Boniface Down, or the sea-walk
below, to Bonchurch, that choice and lovely east-end of Ventnor,
clustered round a pond, overhung by a rich bank of foliage. The mildness
of the climate is attested by huge arbutus growths, recalling those of
Killarney, by fuchsias like trees, with trunks as thick as a strong
man’s wrist, and by scarlet geraniums of such exuberance that a single
plant will cover several square yards of wall in front of a house. This
one fact, more than any word-painting, gives an idea of the way in which
Bonchurch, and indeed most parts of Ventnor, are embowered by foliage.
In all sorts of odd nooks, either nestling against the steep wall of the
Undercliff, or hiding away in its leafy hollows, perch the picturesque
cottages and handsome villas that have attracted only too many
neighbours. The road is much shut in between walls of private grounds,
within which are enclosed some of the finest spots, such as the “Pulpit
Rock,” a projecting mass of sandstone marked by a cross, and another
known as the “Flagstaff Rock.”

Threading our way between these forbidden paradises, the road would take
us up by the new Church with its sadly beautiful graveyard. A lane turns
steeply downwards past the old church, now disused, one of the many
smallest churches in England, that has the further note of being the
sole wholly Norman structure in the Island. Here are buried the Rev. W.
Adams, author of the _Shadow of the Cross_, and John Sterling, Carlyle’s
friend, who came to die at Hillside, now a boarding-house near the upper
station at Ventnor. Another literary celebrity who lived here was
Elizabeth Sewell, whose _Amy Herbert_ and other edifying novels were so
popular in her own generation; and in one of them, _Ursula_, she has
described the scenery about her home.

The old church is said to be now in danger of slipping down towards the
sea. Below it, one descends to Monks’ Bay, traditional landing-place of
the French Benedictines who made themselves once so much at home on the
Island, as their spiritual descendants are doing now. The sea-walk
round

[Illustration: BONCHURCH OLD CHURCH, NEAR VENTNOR]

this bay leads into the Landslip, so called _par excellence_, as the
rawest and wildest disturbance of the Undercliff, its last fall being
not yet a century old. This wilderness of overgrown knolls and hillocks,
tumbled from the crags above, is not to be equalled on our south coast
unless by the similar chaos near Lyme Regis, whose broken and bosky
charms have been stirred into fresh picturesqueness by slips of more
recent date. Over daisied turf one here takes a twisting path that leads
by banks of bracken and bramble into thickets of gnarled thorn and other
blossoming shade, half-burying green mounds and grey boulders in a
tangle where one would soon lose oneself but for occasional glimpses of
the sea below, or for running upon the wall of a private enclosure
behind, guide for the wanderer in his descent towards Luccombe Chine,
who can also ascend to the cliff-walk for Shanklin. The scene is thus
described by Thomas Webster, a geologist who visited it a century ago,
while the first convulsion was still fresh, before the last slip of 1818
came to make confusion worse confounded.

     A considerable portion of the cliff had fallen down, strewing the
     whole of the ground between it and the sea with its ruins; huge
     masses of solid rock started up amidst heaps of smaller fragments;
     whilst immense quantities of loose marl, mixed with stones, and
     even the soil above with the wheat still growing on it, filled up
     the spaces between, and formed hills of rubbish which are scarcely
     accessible. Nothing had resisted the force of the falling rocks.
     Trees were levelled with the ground, and many lay half buried in
     the ruins. The streams were choked up, and pools of water were
     formed in many places. Whatever road or path formerly existed
     through this place had been effaced; and with some difficulty I
     passed over this avalanche, which extended many hundred yards.
     Proceeding eastwards, the whole of the soil seemed to have been
     moved, and was filled with chasms and bushes lying in every
     direction. The intricate and rugged path became gradually less
     distinct, and soon divided into mere sheep tracks, leading into an
     almost impenetrable thicket. I perceived, however, on my left hand,
     the lofty wall of rock which belonged to the same stratum as the
     Undercliff, softened in its rugged character by the foliage which
     grew in its fissures, and still preserving some remains of its
     former picturesque beauty. Neglect, and the unfortunate accident
     which had lately happened, had now altered the features of this
     once delightful spot; and I was soon bewildered among rocks,
     streams of water, tangling thorns, and briars.

The labyrinth between Luccombe and Bonchurch was not the only landslip
in modern times; and though there is believed to be little fear of any
further serious disturbance, occasional falls of rock are a warning how
this gracious ruin of nature might be renewed. _The_ Landslip here[3]
makes to my mind the _bouquet_ of the whole Undercliff, whose similar
features, on an ampler scale, of older wrinkles, and usually more veiled
by the work of man, stretch for miles westward along a rugged platform
varying up to half a mile in width. Words but feebly paint the charms of
a miniature Riviera, its broken land-waves foaming into groves, gardens,
and tangles of shrubbery. Between the wall of downs and cliff-buttresses
shutting it in to the north, and the sea dashing at its foot, the
foliage runs as rank as in a giant’s greenhouse, beautifully

[Illustration: THE LANDSLIP NEAR VENTNOR]

displayed by the accidents of the irregularly sloping ground.

    Crags, knolls, and mounds confusedly hurl’d,
    The fragments of an earlier world.

This line of cliffs may indeed remind us of the Trossachs, with one side
opened out to the sun and a richer vegetation at its base. Hawthorns,
elders, and other bushes grow here to a huge height, dappling the green
of the woods with their blossoms. Myrtle and other semi-tropical plants
flourish hardily; everywhere there are flowers prodigal as weeds,
notably the red Valerian flourishing on walls and broken edges. Huge
boulders are half hidden in ivy, heaps of old ruins are buried in almost
impassable thickets. It is hard to say when the huge bank of greenery is
most beautiful--whether in spring with all its blossoms and tender buds;
or in summer wearing its full glory of leafage; or again in autumn
brilliant with changing tints and spangled by bright berries: even in
winter there are evergreens enough to make us forget the cold winds
banished from this cosy nook. The one blot on such a paradise seems the
many notices to trespassers, warning that its most tempting nooks are
“private,” or the still more ominous placards of “valuable building land
to let on lease.”

The Bonchurch Landslip must be traversed on foot. On the other side of
Ventnor, a good road winds up and down beneath the inland heights, from
the edge of which one better sees how many houses and gardens are
hidden away here in their own greenery. Other aspects are presented from
a path rising and falling along the broken cliffs of the shore. The
road, in fine weather, will be astir with coaches, brakes, and other
wheels making for Blackgang Chine, that renowned goal of excursions from
all over the Island. Beyond Steephill Castle, it leads through St
Lawrence, the western, as Bonchurch is the eastern wing of Ventnor.

St Lawrence, known to guide-books that used to pass Ventnor Cove without
a word, has another of the smallest churches in England, now replaced by
a new one. The old church, till slightly enlarged by Lord Yarborough,
measured twenty feet by twelve under a roof which must have obliged a
tall knight to doff his helmet. Its saint, like St Boniface, gave his
name to a well now enclosed under a Gothic arch. But the great
institution of the parish, standing in a long terrace by the roadside,
is the Hospital for Consumption, which Ventnor people insist on as being
at St Lawrence, just as Woking pushes off the honour of the Brookwood
Cemetery. There was a time when this model hospital made an
advertisement for Ventnor; now new notions as to germ-infection tend to
scare away more profitable guests than its patients, who might be
expected to fall off under new theories of treatment for consumption,
but the building has had a recent addition in memory of Prince Henry of
Battenberg.

We are now among mansions and cottages of thick-set gentility, the
nucleus of which was a villa built by Sir R. Worsley, who made the
hardly successful experiment of planting a vineyard here. The oldest
structure seems to be a little ivy-clad ruin at Woolverton on the shore,
as to the character of which antiquaries for once have differed like
doctors, while its antiquity, like that of the old church, offers
hopeful promise for the permanence of modern buildings on these oft-torn
slopes. But we must not stop to speak of every house on this road, nor
of every private pleasance like that known to Swinburne--

    The shadowed lawns, the shadowing pines, the ways
    That wind and wander through a world of flowers,
    The radiant orchard where the glad sun’s gaze
    Dwells, and makes most of all his happiest hours;
    The field that laughs beneath the cliff that towers,
    The splendour of the slumber that enthralls
    With sunbright peace the world within their walls,
    Are symbols yet of years that love recalls.

On one hand, ascents like the “Cripple Path” would lead us to fine
prospects from the cliff-brow, while below, we might seek out Puckaster
Cove, or the Buddle Inn near a good stretch of sand, such as is rather
exceptional hereabouts, where fragments of the destruction above are
found trailing out into the sea to form dangerous reefs. One theory
makes Puckaster the Roman tin-shipping port; and it certainly proved a
haven of refuge for Charles II. in a storm, as recorded in a
neighbouring parish-register. Along the broken slope, the high-road
takes us as described by William Black, who has caught the
characteristic features of so many English scenes.

     There was a great quiet prevailing along these southern shores.
     They drove by underneath the tall and crumbling precipices, with
     wood-pigeons suddenly shooting out from the clefts, and jackdaws
     wheeling about far up in the blue. They passed by sheltered woods,
     bestarred with anemones and primroses, and showing here and there
     the purple of the as yet half-opened hyacinth; they passed by lush
     meadows, all ablaze with the golden yellow of the celandine and the
     purple of the ground-ivy; they passed by the broken, picturesque
     banks where the tender blue of the speedwell was visible from time
     to time, with the white glimmer of the star-wort. And then all this
     time they had on their left a gleaming and wind-driven sea, full of
     motion, and light, and colour, and showing the hurrying shadows of
     the flying clouds.

The goal of Black’s party was the Sandrock Hotel, prettily situated by
the roadside at Undercliff Niton, which has a chalybeate spring, and
near it some local worthy thought desirable to erect a small shrine to
the memory of Shakespeare, anticipating the more pretentious monument by
which he is now to be glorified in London. From this seaside outpost
turns off the way to the inland village of Niton, lying behind in a
break of the chalk heights. It has been distinguished from Knighton by
the sobriquet of Crab Niton, “a distinction which the inhabitants do not
much relish, and therefore it will be impolitic to employ it,” as a
venerable guide-book very prudently suggests; and Knighton being
nowadays little more than a name, strangers will find no inconvenience
in taking that hint. The place boasts at least one sojourner of note, as
we learn from the

[Illustration: THE UNDERCLIFF NEAR VENTNOR]

tomb of Edward Edwards, leader of the Free Public Library movement that
has now so many monuments all over the country.

The parish of Niton is a large one, containing the head springs of the
Medina and of the eastern Yar, which the well-greaved adventurer might
hence try to track across the Island to their not very distant mouths.
More otiose travellers will find a road passing under St Catherine’s
Down for Newport and the central parts. From the sturdy church tower
with its low spire, a lane leads up to the top of the Down, whence we
could take a wide view of our wanderings, backwards and forwards. And
here, since we are almost at the end of the Undercliff, let us break off
to survey the longer but less famed stretch of this coast, westwards,
under its more comprehensive title.



THE BACK OF THE ISLAND


Our Pisgah for this stage is St Catherine’s Down, once held the highest
point of the Island, but now dethroned, like Ben Macdhui, in favour of
the Ben Nevis of St Boniface. It appears that in Georgian days Week Down
was charged with hiding Shanklin Down from the view of St Catherine’s,
as is no longer the case, the moral being that one or other of these
heights has been raised or depressed, as may well have happened to
superstructures upon so slippery foundation. In such a question of
measurements, at all events, “the self-styled science of the so-called
nineteenth century” with its more elaborate observations, gives a surer
title to eminence. But St Catherine’s is only a few feet lower than the
ridge above Ventnor; and from it, too, a fine prospect may be had,
ranging over the Isle of Wight to the heights of the mainland, and
across the Channel to the French coast in clear weather.

This broad and steep block of down is well provided with landmarks. On
the inland side a tall pillar was erected by a Russian merchant, in
honour of the Czar Alexander’s visit to England after the fall of
Napoleon; which monument a later generation very inappropriately adorned
with a memorial of our soldiers fallen in the Crimean War. On the top
are the restored remains of a chapel, where in old days a hermit-priest
made himself truly useful by keeping a light burning to warn mariners
off this stormy coast, and chanting prayers for their safety. A less
pious legend attributes the building of the old beacon here to a layman
amerced in such a penalty for having stored his cellars with wine sold
him by shipwrecked sailors, a class not very scrupulous as to owner’s
rights--

    Full many a draught of wine had he y-draw
    From Bourdeaux-ward, while that the chapmen sleep:
    Of nicé conscience took he no keep.

Hard by is a later ruin to show how a lighthouse was designed in the
eighteenth century, but a practical age gave up the attempt to rear a
pharos on this cloudy height. Experience since then has gone to show
that a lighthouse serves its end better at the water’s edge than on
commanding cliffs like Beachy Head and Portland Point, from both of
which the old beacons have lately been moved to a lower level.

St Catherine’s Lighthouse stands on the point of that ilk, the most
southerly projection of the Island, where it has Lloyd’s signal station
for neighbour. Its recently intensified electric light is said to be the
most powerful in the world, every few seconds flashing over the sea a
beam of concentrated glare equal to millions of candles. It is also
equipped with a fog-horn, whose hoarse note of warning resounds for
miles, not altogether to the satisfaction of neighbours safe on land.
Yet they may take comfort to think how this screech is more fearsomely
disquieting when heard at sea. I once had such a note ringing in my ears
for two days together running through a chill fog off Newfoundland, with
icebergs about us that could be felt but not seen. Our boat was one of
the few that have crushed into an iceberg and crawled to land with the
tale; then to keep us cheerful we had on board a survivor of that
adventure, the perils whereof it pleased him to depict as looming
through a somewhat befogged imagination.

Another of our fellow-passengers was an American gentleman, who in
Europe had been qualifying himself to come out as an opera tenor. He was
coy of giving us a specimen of his talent, till one night we persuaded
him to begin _Ah, che la morte!_ But at once the officer of the watch
stepped up to silence him, explaining that his singing might drown the
sound of fog-horns. The vocalist was much offended at his organ being
coupled with a fog-horn; and I fear I gave him fresh offence by
suggesting “Signor Fogorno” as a suitable _nom de guerre_, when he
consulted me as to Italianising his rather commonplace patronymic. But
that careful officer was right, if the story be true that a German liner
ran ashore on the back of the Island because her own brass band deafened
her to the warning note that surely should have drowned all sweeter
sounds. And if our insulted tenor had known it, this artificial organ
has a very old theatrical connection, for _persona_ seems the earliest
form of such a sounding contrivance, originally a megaphonic mouthpiece
fitted to a mask which, as one of the classical stage properties, came
to denote the personage thus represented; and in time the name gained
respectability as the person or parson of a parish, who more or less
loudly warned his convoy of souls from the rocks and shoals of
ill-doing.

A different kind of signal would be keenly watched for in days when the
storm of Napoleon’s invasion was expected to burst upon our shores; and
on all prominent points beacons were kept ready to spread the alarm of
the enemy’s approach. The Isle of Wight was fully on the alert,
remembering how often it had been a vulnerable point in mail-clad wars
with France, though one would think that the bugbear, Boney, knew his
business too well to seek a difficult landing in an island, beyond which
he would be brought up by a dangerous channel, a strong arsenal, and a
naval rendezvous. It is said that the signalman at St Catherine’s,
probably having drunk the king’s health too freely in smuggled spirits,
mistook some fishing-boats for a French fleet, and lighted his beacon to
set men mustering in arms and women and children flying for refuge to
Newport. Sir Walter Scott tells us how the same sort of blunder stirred
a great part of Scotland. But on one side of the Island the scare did
not spread far, since the watcher at Freshwater very sensibly reasoned
that the wind then blowing would keep this coast clear of hostile ships,
and forbore to pass on the alarm.

Before the building of St Catherine’s lighthouse in 1840, shipwrecks
were terribly common on the Island. A famous one was that of the
_Clarendon_ West India-man, in 1836. Fourteen vessels in one night are
said to have gone ashore on Chale Bay. This is no coast for amateur
mariners. One is warned also against bathing as dangerous hereabouts,
yet I, unconscious, have swum below Blackgang in my hot youth; while in
cooler age I echo the caution. The hero of _Maud_, whose haunts we are
now approaching, would sometimes have been all the better and wiser for
a morning dip to cool his fevered brow; but he was not so much out of
conceit with life as to venture a bathe--

    Listening now to the tide in its broad-flung, shipwrecking roar,
    Now to the scream of a maddened beach dragged down by the wave.

--a sound which, Tennyson states, can sometimes be heard nine miles
inland.

Chale Bay, in which is Blackgang Chine, opens on the west side of St
Catherine’s Point, where, at Rocken End, the Undercliff seems tumbling
into the sea in a chaos of blocks of chalk and sandstone stormed upon by
the waves with freshly ruinous fury. Above, on the side of St
Catherine’s Down, the scenery alters from nests of Riviera greenery to
bare

[Illustration: BLACKGANG CHINE]

slopes broken by huge boulders and scars, that expose the geological
structure of the Downs to a spectacled eye. Here a slip of 100 acres
happened at the end of the eighteenth century; and the masterful
south-west blasts keep the ruin still somewhat raw, not skinned over as
in more sheltered nooks. The road, passing out of shade, makes a
Switzerlandish turn under the cliffs, as it descends to Blackgang Chine,
the final goal of lion-hunters on this route.

Entrance to the so much sought sight is through a sort of museum or
bazaar, where one must either buy something or frankly pay sixpence.
This reminds me of a visit to Pompeii more than forty years
ago--_eheu!_--when the soldier who conducted me seemed strangely
officious in repeatedly declaring that he was not entitled to any tip;
but, he added, “I have some photographs to sell.” There are those who
hint darkly at illicit entrances by which the unprincipled or
impecunious can smuggle themselves into Blackgang Chine without paying
or buying anything; but considerate visitors will not grudge a toll for
use of the walks and steps that open up the recesses of this great
chasm, through which echoes the boom of waves breaking on the beach
below. It differs from the Shanklin Chine in being not overgrown with
greenery, but showing through its nakedness the various _viscera_ of
greenish-grey sand and dark ferruginous clay that charm the geologist.
Description may not prove “up-to-date,” as the weather-worn sides
crumble away from year to year; yet Sir Henry Englefield’s account is
still to be quoted after more than a century.

     No vegetation clothes any part of this rude hollow, whose flanks
     are in a state of continual decay. They are mostly composed of very
     dark blue clay, through which at intervals run horizontal strata of
     bright yellow sandstone, about 12 or 15 feet thick, which naturally
     divide into square blocks, and have exactly the appearance of vast
     courses of masonry built at different heights to sustain the
     mouldering hill. What has been hitherto described may be called the
     upper part of the chine, for on descending to the seashore we find
     that the stratum of ironstone already mentioned, forms a cornice
     from whose edge the rill falls perpendicularly 74 feet. As the
     substratum is of a softer material than the ironstone, being a
     black indurated clay, the action of the fall has worn it into a
     hollow, shining with a dusky polish from damp, and stained with the
     deep greens of aquatic lichens, or the ferruginous tinge of
     chalybeate exudations. The silver thread of water which falls
     through the air in the front of this singular cove is, when the
     wind blows fresh, twisted into most fantastic and waving curves;
     and not seldom caught by the eddy and carried up unbroken to a
     height greater than that from whence it fell, and at last
     dissipated into mist. When a south-west wind creates a heavy swell
     on the shore, the echo of the sound of the waves in this gloomy
     recess is truly astonishing, and has exactly the effect of a deep
     subterraneous roar issuing from the bottom of the cave. When sudden
     heavy rains or the melting of snows increase the quantity of water
     in the fall, the scenery of this spot must be more striking than
     most in England.

Half a mile behind Blackgang Chine lies the village of Chale, whose grey
church tower stands among the grass-grown graves of many a drowned
mariner, that seem an imitation in miniature of the half-buried rocks
and mounds of the Undercliff. Chale is a resort on its small scale, with
some good old houses and fine scenes to attract visitors, not to speak
of a chalybeate well on the strength of which the place once aspired to
become a spa; and Dr Dabbs’ opinion is emphatic that its bracing air
deserves a success Chale has not yet commanded in rivalry to Shanklin or
Ventnor. Its patients may at least make sure of having their fill of the
south-west wind, that gives such a leeward lurch to hardier trees now
that they are out of shelter in the Undercliff’s sun-trap.

Westward, the shore has openings known as Walpen Chine, Ladder Chine,
and Whale Chine, which are as notable as Blackgang in their way, but not
so famous; and several others yawn more obscurely on the coast line to
Freshwater. Some couple of miles beyond Chale, a name of grim notoriety
is Atherfield Point, where many vessels have been lost on its dangerous
ledge, like the German Lloyd _Eider_, in 1892, that grounded in a fog,
all hands being saved, and the steamer remaining stuck fast for weeks,
so as to give this neighbourhood the excitement without the horror of a
great shipwreck. In bad old days the people of Chale had an evil name as
wreckers, luring poor seamen to destruction by deceptive lights, and not
sticking at murder as a prelude to robbery, since the law held the death
of the survivors to extinguish their title in what goods might be
salved.

From Chale, the seaboard opens out for a stretch of some ten miles along
the Back of the Island, a part not so well known to strangers, unless as
hurrying by on their way to Freshwater. But the path along the rough
shore edge is full of points of interest, especially to the geologist,
who, from exposures of the green-sand formation passes on to mottled
earthy cliffs of the Wealden age, then again finds sand pressed down by
masses of chalk. Behind, runs a silent military road made to link the
Island defences, which is not altogether passable for wheels; indeed the
Freshwater end of it has tumbled into the sea. The usual driving-road
turns inland to pass through the villages below the Downs, which now
draw back a mile or two from the beach. Let us, then, follow Edmund
Peel, the poet of this _Fair Isle_.

    Back from the brink and rest the stagger’d eye
    On the green mound, whose western slope reveals
    A landscape tranquil as the deep blue sky,
    Of hill and dale a rich variety,
    Down over down, vale winding into vale,
    Where peaceful villages imbosom’d lie,
    And halls manorial, from green-swarded Chale,
    To Brixton’s fruitful glebe and Brooke’s delicious dale.

Behind Chale, by the outlying Chale Green near the head of the Medina,
is reached the tiny village of Kingston with its tiny and picturesquely
perched Church, some half-dozen miles south of Newport. The road to
Freshwater turns west, soon reaching Shorwell, in its setting of
unusually rich woods, from which rises the spire of the Church, notable
for very curious and striking features, as for its show of Leigh
monuments, a once obliterated wall-painting, and other relics. Its
vestry preserves the Gun Chamber,

[Illustration: SHORWELL]

in which several of these Island churches once kept a cannon for defence
of the coast. This village is said to have won Queen Victoria’s special
admiration, as well it might.

Two miles on, comes another pretty place, Brixton _alias_ Brighstone,
very unlike its metropolitan namesake, with a goodly Church that counts
among former parsons Bishops Ken, Samuel Wilberforce, and Moberley. In
the beautiful garden of the parsonage, Ken is said to have composed his
far-sung Morning and Evening Hymns; and a tree is shown here under which
Wilberforce wrote his _Agathos_. Hence one can descend to the shore by
Grange Chine, which the military road crosses by a lofty viaduct; or
over the Downs goes the road to Calbourne, the nearest station on the
Freshwater line.

The next village on the road is Mottistone, from whose too much restored
Church, a steep, shady lane leads up to the Mote Stone, or Long Stone, a
block of ferruginous sandstone 13 feet high, with a smaller one fallen
beside it, seeming to have both made part of an ancient cromlech; but
this is said to have served as a mote or public meeting-place, while a
natural legend sees here the stones of a diabolic and angelic
putting-match on St Catherine’s Down. These high downs were a favourite
prehistoric burying place; and several barrows hereabouts have been
excavated by a generation whose _tumuli_ have shrunk to the tees of
golf. The Tudor manor-house, beside Mottistone Church, is one of the
best of the picturesque old structures of that period, which in this
corner of the Island have not been so much shouldered off by
spick-and-span villas.

Leaving the road, beyond the hamlet of Hulverston one can pass down to
the shore by Brook, which has a chine to show, and a fossil forest on
the west side of Brook Point, explained by the geologist Mantell as
having “originated in a raft composed of a prostrate pine-forest,
transported from a distance by the river which flowed through the
country whence the Wealden deposits were derived, and became submerged
in the sand and mud of the delta, burying with it the bones of reptiles,
mussel-shells, and other extraneous bodies it had gathered in its
course.... Many of the stems are concealed and protected by the fuci,
corallines, and zoophytes which here thrive luxuriantly, and occupy the
place of the lichens and other parasitical plants with which the now
petrified trees were doubtlessly invested when flourishing in their
native forests, and affording shelter to the Iguanodon and other
gigantic reptiles.” The beach yields pretty pebbles; and huge fossils
have been found in the cliffs hereabouts.

Hence the military road skirts Compton Bay, upon which the Downs close
in again with a steep slope of chalk that makes no safe play-place for
children, especially when the turf is slippery after long drought, a
caution enforced by the monument to a poor boy who fell here sixty years
ago. Beyond Afton Down, at the west end of Compton Bay, the little
esplanade of Freshwater marks a new division of the Island, which,
indeed, but for this much strained isthmus, would have made two
islands.



FRESHWATER AND THE NEEDLES


At the south-western corner of the Island comes a cleft in the Central
Downs, through which the little Yar flows across the narrowed end from
Freshwater Gate, or Gap, whose name seems to denote the peculiar fact of
a river having its source by the seashore, so near that in rough weather
salt water is said to be washed into the stream. Through that hollow the
spray of the waves can from north and south meet across the three miles
of land; and unless something be done to protect such a weak spot, it
appears that before long this promontory may be cut off from the Island,
as itself was from the mainland by rushing Solent tides. The War Office,
as one of the chief occupiers, is understood to have been more than
indifferent about the sea getting its way in making the nest of forts
here a miniature of the whole kingdom--

    Fortress, built by nature for herself
    Against infection or the hand of war.

In Charles I’s. reign it was indeed proposed to insulate this corner
artificially as a citadel of defence. Private owners and tenants, for
their part, are inclined to plans for forming some kind of breakwater,
where the tiny esplanade of Freshwater is battered by every gale. Local
authorities have been calling on the Hercules aid of a Royal Commission;
and as a beginning of defence, the Board of Trade has forbidden
Freshwater Bay being used by reckless neighbours for a quarry of
shingle.

Into the nook beyond, crossed each way in an hour’s walk, is packed some
of the finest scenery of the Island--the finest of all, some will say,
who find the rich charms of the Undercliff more cloying. On the south
side the Downs raise their steep wall of chalk to drop into the sea at
the Needles point, round which the inner coast shows a more varied line
of cliff. Between lies a huddle of very pleasant rurality, bowery lanes,
hedgerow paths, thatched cottages, and thick-set hamlets, that in the
very breath of the sea recall the most characteristic aspects of the
green heart of England. Even the new Church has a thatched roof. But
this corner, while more out of the way and the taste of trippers, is a
good deal given up to Mars, whose temples here are forts and
public-houses. Also it is swept by a bombardment of golf balls, which
has caused punsters to suggest that this end of the Island as well as
the eastern deserves the name of _Fore_land.

Freshwater itself is a modestly diffused village, which copies modern
military tactics in taking very open order against the assaults of time.
The main body of the place stands loosely ranked some way back from the
shore, to which it throws out an advanced work held against wind and
waves by hotels and a picket of bathing-machines; then a chain of
rearward outposts connects it with the railway station a mile or so
inland. Here the rebuilt Church, with its trappings of antiquity, makes
a rallying point for hamlets in the rear, bearing such by-names as
School Green, Pound Green, Sheepwash Green and Norton, beyond which the
forts on the north side, among their bivouacs of camp followers, are
mixed up with lines of new building, in summer garrisoned by
holiday-makers on the bathing beaches of Totland Bay and Colwell Bay.

The road from the station to the esplanade passes by a mansion hidden in
“a carelessly ordered garden” among thick trees, “close to the ridge of
a noble down,” where

    Groves of pine on either hand
    To break the blast of winter, stand;
    And further on, the hoary Channel
    Tumbles a breaker on chalk and sand.

The house is more closely sheltered by fine growths like the
Wellingtonia planted by Garibaldi, the great cedar, “sighing for
Lebanon,” and the grand ilex, also made evergreen by one who was a
“lover of trees.” For this is Farringford, famous as the home of
Tennyson for more than half his life, and the sojourn of so many
contemporary celebrities, guests at his house or at his neighbour Mr
Cameron’s, a retired Indian official, whose wife became so notable

[Illustration: FARRINGFORD HOUSE]

by her influence over “Alfred,” by her unconventionally generous
impulses, and by her skill in the then young art of photography. Later
on the Camerons disappear from their renowned friend’s story, going to
die in Ceylon; but all along flit across the page names of renown in
both continents, Maurice, Jowett, Sir Henry Taylor, G. F. Watts,
Browning, Longfellow, Lowell, O. W. Holmes, and others drawn by the same
magnet to this shore.

The mellifluous poet, so dear to his intimates, failed to make himself
universally popular in the Island, whose inhabitants were not all able
to appreciate him. There is the amusing case of a fly-driver who could
not understand the squire of Farringford’s greatness. “Why, they only
keep one man, and he doesn’t sleep in the house!” But that some
residents could value their illustrious neighbour is shown by another
story of a visitor arriving when the house was in a confusion of
unpacking, and being kept waiting in the hall till he was recognised as
the Prince Consort.

It is pretty well understood that he who figures too much as an
alabaster saint in his official biography, had an earthier side to his
nature. His gloomy moods and sensitive shyness sometimes broke out in
fits of ill-humour, such as caused Mrs Cameron to remonstrate with him
on behalf of a friend of hers found trespassing on his domain, who had
come expecting to “see a lion, not a bear.” While he shrank in almost
morbid horror from peeping pilgrims, he pointed himself out to their
gaze by a picturesque “get up,” as to which one of his favoured
grandchildren is said to have bluntly asked him, “If you don’t like
people to look at you, why do you wear that queer hat and cloak?” I have
a story to tell which has not yet, I think, been in print, but was
vouched for by one of those concerned. As the Poet-laureate, with his
friends Palgrave and Woolner, the sculptor, were walking through a
village, irreverent urchins, having no fear of he-or she-bears, ran
after them with the cry “Old Jew!”--“Poor Palgrave’s nose!” Tennyson
whispered to Woolner, while Palgrave, for his part, presently took the
opportunity of an aside to their companion, “That’s what Tennyson gets
by dressing himself up in such a way!”

Another story of Tennyson’s manners reached me in two pieces, at a long
interval, each dovetailing into each other. I knew a kind and gentle
lady who venerated all genius, and especially his who was the flower of
Victorian literature. Many years ago she told me, how being invited to
see the University boat-race from George Macdonald’s house at
Hammersmith, she found herself beside an unknown gentleman of her own
mature age, to whom she remarked that it would be well if a window could
be opened. He turned his back on her without a word and walked out of
the room, which he would not enter again. To her dismay, my friend heard
that this was the Poet-laureate, who did not like to be spoken to. She
went to her grave hardly able to forgive herself for having unwittingly
hurt such a man. Many years afterwards, on his coming to be buried at
Westminster, another friend told me how in her girlhood, she was at
George Macdonald’s boat-race party, when Tennyson was so offended at
being spoken to by an old lady, that he shut himself up in a separate
room, to which she was sent with some food for him, in the hope that a
mere child might be a David to the mood of Saul; and that he spoke very
crossly to her because she had forgotten to bring the mustard.

Why tell such tales? it may be asked by those who remember how Tennyson
looked forward with horror to his weaknesses being exposed to the public
eye. Because a great man’s life cannot be kept private; and no picture
of him is of value with all the warts painted out. Those who knew the
poet agree that he had rough ways and some coarse tastes singularly in
contrast with the “saccharinity ineffable” which certain tart critics of
another generation distaste in his verse. Those who knew him best are
most emphatic as to the essential nobility of character that for them
veiled all short-comings. The main interest of his life, as a human
document, is that a man who had such faults should by force of genius
have been able to transmute them into lessons of purity, courtesy, and
charity, that will shine all the brighter as rays of a soul not
“faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null.” And there will be
an end to all fruitful biography, if the “good taste” so much admired by
this generation is to overlay truth. Who would read the memoirs of a
former age if they represented Samuel Johnson as a model of polite
elegance, Goldsmith of practical common sense, and Wilkes of untarnished
public spirit. So, without wanting in honest admiration for the greatest
poet of my time, I protest against the conspiracy of silence by which he
has been raised to a House of Lords among the immortals, his old cloak
and hat forgotten in ermine and coronet, and his strong tobacco and
full-bodied port glorified as nectar and ambrosia.

But if there were some to find the poet no more than a man, and others
to regret that he let his world-wide fame be obfuscated in such a title
as is sold to a prosperous brewer or money-broker, all tongues are at
one in praise of the gentle lady still remembered as a devoted wife, as
a friendly neighbour, and as an open-handed mistress of the manor. To
William Allingham, Tennyson reported the character given of them by an
ex-servant: “She is an angel--but he, why he’s only a public writer!”
Many a tear was shed when, after long suffering, Lady Tennyson came to
rest in the churchyard of Freshwater, her husband lying apart among our
renowned dead. Within the Church are memorials of their second son
Lionel, whose promising career was cut short by fever in the far East,
and he found a hasty grave on a sun-blighted island of the Red Sea.

The bard whose “lucky rhymes to him were scrip and share” indeed, while
more than one of his publishers dropped off “flaccid and drained,” was
able later on to build himself a retreat on the Sussex wilds of
Blackdown, in a sense even further “from noise and smoke of town.” But
he still spent part of the year at Farringford; and much of his poetry
is coloured by the Isle of Wight scenery, notably _Maud_, that “pet
bantling” of his to which early critics were so unkind. Enoch Arden,
too, might be thought to have hailed from this shore, but that hazel
nuts do not flourish in the Island, unless in the half fossilized form
of “Noah’s nuts” found in Compton Chine; also, on critical
consideration, there appears no long street climbing out of Freshwater,
whose “mouldered church,” moreover, has been quite masked by
rebuilding--but these are poetical properties readily inserted into any
picture, such as one that could be taken from a hundred villages on our
coast--

    Long lines of cliff breaking have left a chasm;
    And in the chasm are foam and yellow sands;
    Beyond, red roofs about a narrow wharf,
    In cluster; then a moulder’d church, and higher,
    A long street climbs to one tall-tower’d mill;
    And high in heaven behind it a grey down
    With Danish barrows; and a hazelwood,
    By autumn nutters haunted, flourishes
    Green in a cup-like hollow of the down.

Often from these downs, the poet must have watched--

    Below the milky steep
    Some ship of battle slowly creep,
    And on through zones of light and shadow
    Glimmer away to the lonely deep.

From his own window, he could catch--

    The voice of the long sea-wave as it swelled,
    Now and then in the dim-gray dawn.

And often his steps were turned to that finest scene within an hour’s
stroll--

    The broad white brow of the Isle--that bay with the coloured sand--Rich
    was the rose of sunset there, as we drew to the land.

On such points of vantage, he was inspired with loyalty and patriotism
very different from the feelings of his predecessor in the laureateship,
who “uttered nothing base,” but who was certainly disposed to frown,
when, from the Island cliffs, he saw a British fleet sailing forth
against the soon clouded dawn of liberty in France.

Tennyson naturally had a dread of new building about Freshwater; and
some other landowners here seem to share the same exclusive spirit,
which may account for the neighbourhood not being more “developed” as a
resort, while its warmest admirers lament how much it has grown since
the Laureate settled here. It has no want of attractions, not always
accessible on the steep face of chalk, scarred and pitted by works of
time like Freshwater Arch and Freshwater Cave near the little bay,
beyond which come honeycombings known by such names as “Neptune’s Caves”
and “Bar Cave”--“Frenchman’s Hole,” from an escaped prisoner said to
have starved here--Lord Holmes’ “Parlour,” “Kitchen,” and “Cellar,”
where that governor was in the way

[Illustration: FRESHWATER BAY]

of entertaining his friends--“Roe’s Hall”--“Preston’s Bower”--the “Wedge
Rock,” a triangular mass wedged in between the cliff and an isolated
pyramid some 50 feet high--the “Arched Cavern” in Scratchell’s Bay, and
the “Needles Cave,” into which small boats can peep before rounding the
jagged corner. It is said that Professor Tyndall used to keep himself in
climbing practice by scrambling on these treacherous rocks; and if this
be true, I so far question the wisdom of that pundit. The harrying of
airy nests makes a better excuse for such riskful gymnastics. The
fissured cliff line is tenanted by sea-fowl, which the report of a gun
brings out in screaming and hovering crowds, conspicuous among them the
black and white cormorants nicknamed “Isle of Wight parsons.”

These sights are to be visited by boat, if a stranger have stomach for
the adventure. On foot one can mount the back of the cliff known at
first as the Nodes, then as the Mainbench, or in general as the High
Downs. At the highest point of the Nodes, nearly 500 feet, the old
beacon has been replaced by an Iona Cross in memory of Tennyson, with
whom this was a favourite walk in the wildest weather. A grand walk it
is upon a crest of greensward so smooth that bicycles find a track here
among the flying golf balls. In dry weather this smooth turf is
slippery, as one might find too late on its treacherous edges. Further
on, the straight way is barred by a fort, where, between Scratchell’s
Bay and Alum Bay, the ridge narrows and drops to the spur pointed by
those insular masses known as the “Needles,” that, seen at a hazy
distance, rise out of the sea like three castles.

The name of this famous point has been connected with the German _Nieder
Fels_; but there seems no need of going further than a homely simile
that would come to mind and mouth of sailors who, in another language,
have threaded the same suggestion on the southernmost rocks of Africa.
Of the three sharp-backed islets that stand out here braving the winds
and waves, the innermost is known to have risen 120 feet higher in a
tall pillar called “Lot’s Wife,” which fell in 1784. Since Turner
painted them, unless they loomed for him through a haze of imagination,
the Needles have dwindled in size. Naturally of course they are worn
away by every gale, like their kinsmen “Old Harry and his Wife” on the
Dorset coast, one of which isolated masses has been washed down to a
stump within the last few years, the same end as threatens the “Parson
and Clerk” off the red sandstone cliffs of Devon; and in the far north
the more robustly gigantic “Old Man of Hoy” has now but one leg to stand
on.

Bitten at as they are by old _Edax Rerum_, the Needles have still a bulk
which, dwarfed against the cliffs behind, might not be guessed till
one’s eyes are fixed upon the lighthouse on the outermost rock, or upon
human figures displayed against them, to give their due proportion.
Thomas Webster, the geologist, saw them about a century ago under most
picturesque conditions, when the fifty-gun frigate _Pomone_ had stuck
fast upon the outer edge, and lay captive there, to be broken up by the
next gale, the waves already spouting through her ports and hatchways,
while all around swarmed a fleet of smaller vessels engaged in salving
the wreck, or bringing idle spectators to such a singular scene: he was
surprised to find the frigate’s hull overtopped by more than
three-fourths of the rock.

On the north side of the Needles opens Alum Bay, where German visitors
will not fail to exclaim _Wunderschön!_ and Americans to admire the
works of nature as “elegant!” This famous geological transformation
scene is formed by the Eocene strata turning up beside the chalk, as at
the east end of the Island, but here with more striking effect, so as to
be a spectacle for the most unlearned eye as well as a lesson of
extraordinary value for those who can read it, through the manner in
which the beds have been heaved, contorted and thrown into a vertical
position of display. The chalk on one side with its tender tints is
faced on the other by variegated bands of clay, marl, and sand, the hues
of which, after heavy rain especially, are vivid far beyond our common
experience of the “brown old earth,” in some lights presenting the
rainbow of colour described by Englefield, to be so often quoted: “deep
purplish-red, dusky blue, bright ochreous-yellow, grey approaching
nearly to white, and absolute black, succeed each other, as sharply
defined as the stripes in silk; and after rain the sun, which, from
about noon till his setting in summer, illuminates them more and more,
gives a brilliancy to some of these nearly as resplendent as the high
lights on real silk.”

His geological ally Webster renders an almost as high-coloured account
in more matter-of-fact style. The Alum Bay cliffs, he says,

... consist, generally, of a vast number of alternations of layers
     of very pure clay, and pure sand, with ferruginous sand and shale.
     Of these beds some are several feet, whilst others are not an
     eighth of an inch in thickness. Next to the chalk, is a vertical
     bed of chalk marl; then one of clay of a deep red colour, or
     sometimes mottled red and white. This is succeeded by a very thick
     bed of dark blue clay with green earth, containing nodules of marl
     or argillaceous limestone with fossil shells. Then follows a vast
     succession of alternating beds of sand of various colours, white,
     bright yellow, green, red and grey; plastic clay, white, black,
     grey and red; ferruginous sandstone and shale, together with
     several beds of a species of coal, or lignite, the vegetable origin
     of which is evident. The number and variety of these vertical
     layers is quite endless, and I can compare them to nothing better
     than the stripes on the leaves of a tulip. On cutting down pieces
     of the cliffs, it is astonishing to see the extreme brightness of
     the colours, and the delicacy and thinness of the several layers of
     white and red sand, shale and white sand, yellow clay and white or
     red sand, and indeed almost every imaginable combination of these
     materials. These cliffs, although so highly coloured that they
     could scarcely come within the limits of picturesque beauty, were
     not, however, without their share of harmony. The tints suited each
     other admirably; and their whole appearance, though almost beyond
     the reach of art to imitate, was extremely pleasing to the eye.
     Their forms, divested of colour, when viewed near, and from the
     beach, were often of the most sublime class; resembling the
     weather-worn peaks of Alpine heights. This circumstance they derive
     from the same source as those primitive mountains; for the strata
     being vertical, the rains and snow water enter between them, and
     wear deep channels, leaving the more solid parts sharp and pointed.

The alum that gives the name to this bay, oozing from its motley face,
seems no longer of commercial account; but the pure white sand is used
in glass-making, and the coloured sands are arranged in fantastic
patterns to make curiosities or memorials for the excursionists who
flock to this spot by coach, by steamer from Bournemouth and other
seaside towns, or by an hour’s walk from Freshwater station. For their
entertainment, there are two hostelries and some humbler refreshment
rooms; but as yet Alum Bay has not been turned into a bathing-place,
though round its northern corner rises one of the favourite summer
resorts of the Island.

Another contrast appears from the hollow behind the bay. The chalk downs
on one side are smooth, as if shaved by their own razor-like edges; on
the other, Headon Hill swells up in moorland knolls and banks of
heather, its rough sides clothed with tufts of yellow flowerets and
ragged grass. Headon Warren is a fitting _alias_. From its blunt head,
some 400 feet, we look down upon the lower and darker cliffs of the
inner coast, studded with brick forts that would be an ugly sight to an
enemy seeking to force the passage of the Solent.

We have done now with wonders, but the north-western face of the Island
makes a pleasant shore line, on which, in a mile or so, is reached the
snug beach of Totland Bay, the chief bathing-place of this end, all new
and smart, its big hotel standing out over the pier, like colonel of a
regiment of lodging-houses and villas. Round the next corner comes
Colwell Bay, another stretch of sand on which a younger resort is
growing up beside crumbling cliffs and tiny chines. At the further horn
stands Albert Fort, nicknamed the “brick three-decker,” commanding the
narrowest part of the Solent, where a long narrow spit from the mainland
throws Hurst Castle more than half-way across the three-knot channel,
hardly needed as a stepping-stone by any giant who might care to hop
over. The next corner, bearing up the Victoria Fort, brings us round to
the estuary of the Yar, a stream that shows more estuary than river,
opening out with as much complacency as if it drained a basin of ten
times three miles. The mouth of this shallow gulf, towards the sea
pleasantly masked in woods, is crossed by a causeway leading into
Yarmouth.

[Illustration: TOTLAND BAY]



YARMOUTH


Among its other misfortunes this little Yarmouth has had that of being
over-crowed by the bloated renown of Great Yarmouth, which trumpets
forth many high notes of interest, from its cathedral-like church and
its ancient “Rows,” to its herring fleet and its Cockney paradises. The
author of _David Copperfield_ himself might not find much to say about
the Isle of Wight Yarmouth, which yet, by its past dignity, seems to
demand a chapter, where it must play at least the part of text like that
blessed word Mesopotamia. If we writers might never fill a few pages
without having anything particular to say, what would become of the
circulating libraries? So let us see what may be said under the head of
Yarmouth, taken with a stretch of country beyond which deserves to be
better known than it is to the Island visitors.

This little town or big village is best known to strangers by the pier
of the shortest crossing from Lymington, not indeed the most convenient
one, as there is a gap between the landing and the station, and trains
of the Freshwater line seem to run in no close connection with the
steamers, or make only a mocking show of connection that adds insult to
injury. So one may find oneself stranded here for an hour or two, unless
he can go straight on by coach to Freshwater Bay or to Totland Bay, to
which also some of the steamers run in the season. But weak-stomached
voyagers hail the half-hour’s passage as being mostly in the winding mud
flats of the Lymington River, with an open prospect towards the Needles,
and the low walls of Hurst Castle at the point of its long spit.
Hereabouts is the proposed line of a Solent Tunnel which as yet remains
in the air, but as _fait accompli_ might lift poor Yarmouth’s head, or
Totland Bay’s, to the height of proud Ryde.

Simple as it stands now, Yarmouth is one of the Island’s three ancient
boroughs, old enough to have been more than once burned by French
excursionists in the bad old days, and a place of comparatively more
importance a century ago, when fleets of sails might be wind-bound here
for weeks. As bulwark against French and other attacks, a castle was
built at the mouth of the Yar, whose remains are now enclosed in the
grounds of the Pier Hotel, itself still recalling its state when it was
the mansion of Sir Robert Holmes, and entertained Charles II. Else,
Yarmouth has not much to boast in the way of architecture, unless some
quaint old houses, refreshing after the modernity of Totland Bay. The
Church, dating from James I., shows a collection of Holmes’ monuments,
chief among them a fine statue of Sir Robert Holmes, which had a curious
history: it is

[Illustration: YARMOUTH]

said to have been meant for Louis XIV., but being captured at sea along
with the sculptor, he was forced to fit it with a head of Sir Robert.
This local worthy, Governor of the Island under Charles II., and a
benefactor to the town by embanking its marshy estuary, had a wider
renown as one of our early Nelsons; he is repeatedly mentioned in Pepys’
_Diary_, and his epitaph tells in sounding Latin how, among other
exploits, he more than once beat the Dutch, not always beaten at sea by
Charles’ sailors, how he took from them the colony of _Nova Belgia_, now
better known as New York, and how he captured a cargo of Guinea gold
that was coined into a word of much credit in our language.

The Island boasts at least one other sailor as having earned a place in
our story. There was a poor tailor’s apprentice of Bonchurch who,
according to the legend, ran away to the king’s navy, proved himself in
his first fight worth more than nine men, and rose to be Admiral Sir
Thomas Hopson, knighted by Queen Anne for breaking the boom at Vigo.
These rough coasts have all along nursed a breed of stout sea-dogs, not
always so well employed as in fighting the battles of their country. A
century ago Yarmouth, and indeed all this corner, seems to have been a
nest of amphibian waiters on the tides of fortune, passing as fishermen
plain, but often coloured as smugglers, and proving excellent food for
powder when they could be pressed into the navy blue.

Such proof spirits made boon companions for the eccentric painter
George Morland, when in 1799 he fled from London to escape bailiffs. He
had thus nearly jumped from the frying-pan into the fire, since at
Yarmouth he and his brother were arrested by a party of the Dorset
militia on suspicion of being spies for the French--why else should
strangers be sketching the coast? At Shanklin, the same suspicion fell
upon another artist, whom the fishermen began to pelt from his easel,
but he, being a very fat man, cleared himself by patting his paunch, and
exclaiming, “Does this look like anything French?” There was a spy-fever
all over the Island at that time. In Morland’s case, amid the hoots of a
patriotic populace, the military Dogberries marched off their prisoners
to Newport, where they were discharged by the magistrates only on
condition of making no more sketches. In spite of such prohibition, some
of Morland’s best work represents the Freshwater cliffs and the fishing
folk of this coast.

Yarmouth gives itself few seaside airs; yet one has seen bathing-places
with no more to build on. There is a stretch of sand where a few
bathing-machines are unlimbered; and at low tide the smell of seaweed
and salt mud might be considered medicinal. The Pier Hotel (the
ex-“George”) has recently enlarged itself to invite custom; and on the
other side of the pier the Solent Yacht Club makes a showy patch upon a
general aspect of well-worn old-fashionedness. If one yearn for a
thicker mixture of up-to-date buildings, one has only to take the two
or three miles’ walk, or few minutes’ railway run to Freshwater.

To the east, the Bouldnor estate has been trying to blossom into a red
brick resort upon its wooded shore fringed with sand. By the low cliffs
on this side we pass on towards the Hamstead Ledges, mines of fossils
wealth, which I have heard a British Association President declare to be
the most interesting part of the Island; but the general public takes
quite an opposite view. The northern shore, with its muddy flats and
crumbling banks, has no attraction for the many, till the sands of
Gurnard Bay bring us round to the far stretched esplanade of Cowes.

Behind the coast, Parkhurst Forest once extended from Yarmouth to Cowes,
where the country is still dotted with its fragments in woods, copses,
and straggling hedgerows. Here, between the Downs and the Solent, runs
the railway to Newport, keeping well back in the green plain, with more
apparent regard for economy of line than for the convenience of the
villages it serves on either hand. Its course, indeed, is soon turned
inland by the Newton River, whose crops are raised from salterns and
oyster-beds, across which the railway gets glimpses of the sea two or
three miles away.

Among the branching creeks of this shallow inlet may be sought out
Newton, now a mere hamlet, but, in the teeth of its name, boasting
itself the oldest borough in the Island, which till not so long ago
returned two members of Parliament, among them such celebrities as
Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, and George Canning. Though the place has
a tiny, tumbledown Town Hall, it was only in the last century that it
got a church of its own. But its now larger neighbour Shalfleet, nearer
the railway, has one of the most notable churches on the Island, with a
massive Norman tower and other relics, such as the rude carving over the
north door, the subject of which makes a riddle for antiquaries.

On the opposite side of the line, the pretty village of Calbourne shows
another old church, a good deal “restored,” to the scandalising of
architectural purists; and near it Swainston is one of the most
dignified Wight mansions, incorporating the remains of what was once an
episcopal palace of the Winchester diocese. One Rector of Calbourne was
that Nicholas Udall, now remembered as author of _Ralph Roister
Doister_, the first English comedy, but as Headmaster of Eton noted in
his own day for out-Heroding the Tudor Herods in school discipline, if
Thomas Tusser’s experience were not exceptional--whose works the irony
of time puts on library shelves beside those of his old tyrant--

    From Paul’s I went, to Eton sent,
    To learn straightways the Latin phrase,
    Where fifty-three stripes given to me
    At once I had;
    For fault but small, or none at all,
    It came to pass, thus beat I was.
    See, Udall, see, the mercy of thee
    To me, poor lad!

[Illustration: SHALFLEET]

The Eton boys who painfully learned to act this Orbilius’ comedy, may
often have been as sad over it as is the traditional clown in private
life. If any of them grew up to be dramatic critics, they might have
found some satisfaction in “slating” their ex-master. To us indeed the
humours of this farcical piece suggest that our forefathers must have
been as easily amused as were Mr Peter Magnus’ friends, to Mr Pickwick’s
thinking. But also a play evidently modelled upon Plautus and Terence,
with more than a hint of our old friend _Miles Gloriosus_, is remarkable
for keeping in view a motto much neglected by many playwrights, _Maxima
debetur puero reverentia_, while indeed it condescends to rough
vernacular fun such as might not be expected from that strict
disciplinarian, who, after retirement to a country parsonage, ended his
days in another mastership at Westminster.

Calbourne one understands to be the “Malbourne” of a novel that made
some noise, _The Silence of Dean Maitland_, where this countryside and
its people are gauzily veiled under such names as “_Old_port” with its
“_Burton’s_ Hotel,” and the “_Swaynestone_” lords of the manor; while
other scenes of this moving story seem better masked as “Chalkbourne”
and “Belminster.” One rather wonders that novelists think it needful to
affect such a thin disguise. In another good story of the Isle of Wight,
Mrs Oliphant’s _Old Mr Tredgold_, we find the same trick of nomenclature
used rather more carelessly, when “Steephill” stands inland from
“Sliplin,” and the “_Bunbridge_ cliffs” once betray themselves as
Bembridge by a slip of the author’s pen, or of the printer’s eye. We
plodding writers of fact are fain to grudge our fanciful brethren such
half measures in reality. We would not drive them back upon “the
pleasant town of A----” or “the ancient city of B----,” all the letters
of the alphabet having long ago been used up in this service; but they
might be at a little pain of invention to christen their “St Oggs” and
“Claverings”; or at least let them be consistent, and not dump down
Portsmouth by its honest name, as that first mentioned novelist does,
among her ineffectual _aliases_.

Ground so well trodden by honeymooning couples seems to offer a fit
stage for fiction; and the Isle of Wight, if it sometimes finds itself
called out of its proper names, has less cause to complain of want of
appreciation among the novelists who deal with it. Jane Austen only
sights it from the walls of Portsmouth, but her interest was in human
rather than natural features; and she at least compliments it with its
local title “the Island.” Mr Meredith coasts or touches its shores here
and there, taking such snapshots as:--“The Solent ran up green waves
before a full-blowing South-wester. Gay little yachts bounded out like
foam, and flashed their sails, light as sea nymphs. A cloud of deep
summer blue topped the flying mountains of cloud.” Mr Zangwill pushes
inland, and writes this testimonial:--“A maze of loveliness, abounding
in tempting perspectives. Every leafy avenue is rich in promise; such
nestling farmhouses, such peeping spires, such quaint red tiled
cottages, such picturesque old-fashioned mullioned windows, such
delicious wafts of perfume from the gardens and orchards, such bits of
beautiful old England as are perhaps nowhere else so profusely
scattered!” But another popular novelist, who shall here be nameless,
playing _Advocatus Diaboli_ through the mouth of one of his characters
in a perverse humour, puts the seamy side thus:--“That the Isle of Wight
was only a trumpery toyshop, that its ‘scenery’ was fitly adorned with
bazaars for the sale of sham jewellery, that its amusements were on a
par with those of Rosherville Gardens; that its rocks were made of mud
and its sea of powdered lime.”

This does not exhaust the catalogue of stories which have their scene
here. Professor Church’s _Count of the Saxon Shore_ and Mr F. Cowper’s
_Captain of the Wight_ come rather into the category of boys’ books, the
latter being specially well stuffed with swashing blows and strong
“language of the period.” Mr Headon Hill’s _Spies of the Wight_ gives a
lurid peep into the machinations of a foreign power against our coast
defences, and the tricks of a Fosco-like villain foiled by one of those
Sherlock Holmes intellects that find it so easy to discover what has
been invented for discovery. We are now approaching the most fashionable
resort in the Island, and there perhaps may come across some of those
scandals and sins of society that give a popular relish to so much of
our circulating literature. Meanwhile, since there is nothing like
seeing ourselves as others see us, for a careful picture of Isle of
Wight life, let us turn to a French story-teller whose modesty might
prefer his name to be withheld.

A collection of novelettes entitled _Amours Anglais_, one of which
centres in the Island, is put forth by this writer as an essay in a new
school of romance. His preface, dated from “Margate, Isle of Thanet,”
lets us understand how after long years of sojourn in England he has
observed John Bull as closely and profoundly as is possible for a
stranger to do, and that he proposes to present English life to his
countrymen, stripped of the ridiculous exterior with which it is charged
by their caricaturing spirit. This sympathising stranger knows the
British soul to be not less interesting and more wholesome than the
gloomy and flabby Russian sentiment that has had such a vogue in French
fiction. To the facts of _Outre-Manche_, then, he will apply his native
“psychologic methods,” writing as a Frenchman what he has felt as an
Englishman. His aim is “to create an international _genre_ of romance,
marrying our taste to the humour and the morality of our neighbours.
Have I succeeded? The public will judge.” So, with the best intentions,
our _entente cordialiste_ appeals to his French readers. Let the English
public now judge.

The heroine of this story is Lilian North, nearly out of her teens,
whose home is a cottage wreathed with ivy and honeysuckle in the
outskirts of Newport. Her father, who “says the service in the chapel”
across the road, is “in orders,” not indeed Anglican orders, he being a
fanatical Baptist who holds that “one is surer of going to hell with the
Archbishop of Canterbury than with the Pope of Rome himself.” Her mother
is dead. She has a married sister not far off at Plymouth--in which, for
once, the author makes a slip, as he evidently means Portsmouth. Poor
Lilian sees almost no society, except Jedediah, “papa’s disciple,” a
sort of apprentice minister who “is to read the service when papa dies.”
This young colleague and successor loves Lilian, with her father’s
approval; but she loves him not, as how should she when he has red eyes,
hair of no particular colour, and can talk about nothing but going to
heaven!

Jedediah looks like turning out the hypocritical villain of the piece.
Lilian likes him less than ever when the hero appears in the person of
Harry Gordon, a young city clerk who has come courting Miss Arabella
Jones, elder daughter of the Baptist minister at Newport. Mr Jones has
the advantage of his colleague in being a rich man who “preaches only
for his amusement”; and his daughters lead a rackety life that must have
scandalised the connection, especially in the Ryde yachting season, when
they are always at some party of pleasure, “sometimes in a boat,
sometimes on horseback, sometimes in _char-à-bancs_, never knowing in
the morning where they shall lunch in the afternoon, nor where and with
whom they shall dance in the evening”; and when they visit Newport it is
with a train of ever fresh cavaliers.

At a picnic in the ruins of Carisbrooke, Lilian makes the acquaintance
of Harry Gordon, whom her friend Arabella Jones professes to disdain as
a shy awkward boy. But Lilian takes to him, and Harry begins to pay more
attention to her than to the proud Miss Jones. At a game of blindman’s
buff among the ruins, the blindfolded hero is more deliberate than need
be in pawing over Lilian’s face and figure before giving her name. Cupid
catches them both.

Another day there was a party to Freshwater, where the sea is always
_méchant_, even in fine weather. The ladies having ventured out in a
boat, found themselves in such danger that they were glad to get on
shore. Then Arabella put her backward swain to the test with the
question--“if we had gone down, which of us would you have saved first?”
Harry did not answer, but his looks were on Lilian, to the spiteful
displeasure of Miss Jones. So, in talking of a ball about to be given by
the wealthy Baptist pastor of Ryde, she scornfully bid Lilian come to it
only if properly dressed--“none of your shabby dyed frocks and halfpenny
flowers!”

Lilian’s cheeks glowed with shame under this insult, and she took the
first opportunity of stealing away to weep all alone by moonlight. But
Harry, indignantly sympathetic, had followed her, guided by her sobs.
In vain she bid him return to his Arabella. Arabella indeed! He had
never much cared for Miss Jones, whom he now detested after such an
exhibition of ill-natured rudeness. As they strolled on the Freshwater
esplanade, Lilian’s foot slipped; and Harry, holding-her up, took the
opportunity to clasp the heroine in his arms. They went back an engaged
couple--_cela va sans dire_.

The courtship had to be done on the sly; yet the young couple must have
attracted suspicion in any more censorious neighbourhood, such as that
not far away, which we hear of, on good authority, as bubbling over with
“gossip, scandal, and spite.” Every day Harry rode from Ryde to Newport,
met at her garden-gate by Lilian, to keep company with all the freedom
of a British maiden and of an innocent heart. “I gave sugar to his
horse, which was called Fly; we picked flowers, and ran races against
each other.” Only the jealous Jedediah guessed what was going on. When
Harry entered the house, he feigned great attention to the religious
exhortations of the father, but could not make way in his good-will,
while Jedediah scowled at every sight of his rival, whose ring Lilian
wore “hidden under my mitten,” yet not perhaps from that
green-spectacled monster.

Autumn broke up the gay non-conformist society of the Island. The Misses
Jones went off to make fresh conquests at Brighton. Harry had to go back
to his London office, but every week-end he took a bed at the “Bugle”
Hotel of Newport, spent Sunday with his _fiancée’s_ family, and returned
to business by the last train. In spite of this breaking of the Sabbath,
the Baptist minister believed that the young man came all the way from
London to hear him preach. But at last the neighbours began to talk; so
the lovers saw themselves obliged to meet only in secret, and to pour
out their hearts in long letters. The worst of it was that Harry grew
cross and impatient. His father, a rich shipowner at Cardiff, would
never consent to his engagement with the daughter of a poor Baptist
preacher. If he knew, he would cut his son off with a shilling, “as the
law authorises him to do.” The Rev. Mr North, for his part, would frown
on his child’s union with a family far from sound in faith. Lilian was
for a long engagement, in hopes that the old people would come round.
Harry’s more heroic remedy was an immediate secret marriage such as, in
tale and history, has sooner or later the effect of forcing parents to
make the best of a bad business. The wooer becomes ill-temperedly
pressing; Lilian at length consents; but when these unpractical
youngsters lay their heads together, they run up at once against the
serious difficulty of finding a minister to marry them. Then the heroine
takes the desperate resolution of throwing herself upon the generosity
of her unsuccessful suitor. She leads Jedediah into the garden; and now
for a scene in the best style of French fiction.

     “Do you love me, Mr Jedediah?” I said.

     The poor fellow had a moment of joy and hope.

     “I ask if you love me well enough to wish my happiness, even if
     that should cause you pain?”

     “Yes,” said he, all at once overcast again.

     “And do you feel yourself capable of doing all you can to aid the
     accomplishment of what will be grievous to you?”

     “Perhaps,” replied Jedediah with a sigh.

     “Mr Jedediah, I love Harry Gordon.”

     “I feared so!”

     “I wish to marry him.”

     “And you reckon on me to win the consent of Mr North. But nothing
     will move him, Miss Lilian: he has discovered that Mr Harry’s
     father is a Puseyite, and his aunt a nun in Ireland. His conviction
     is that Mr Harry is a treacherous foe who has got into intimacy
     with him for the purpose of stealing his papers and spying upon his
     conduct. Nothing will move him!”

     “I am aware of it, so I have made up my mind to marry without his
     knowledge.”

     “Without his knowledge! But who will marry you?”

     “You, Mr Jedediah!”

     “Me!”

     “Yourself, my good, my dear Jedediah!”

     “But,” went on Jedediah, after a moment’s consideration, “even if I
     were weak enough to consent to so culpable an action, such a union
     would not be valid in the eye of the law. Not being a member of the
     Established Church, I cannot celebrate a civil marriage. You must
     go before the Registrar; and, as you are both under age, this
     official will not marry you without your father’s authorisation in
     writing.”

     “Alas! what are we to do?”

     Jedediah reflected.

     “What would you say if I undertook to get this authorisation for
     you?”

     “I should say that you are our good angel.”

     “Then, let me manage.”

     I held out my hand and he kissed it. His glasses were moist with
     tears.

     Three days later, he brought me the document which I required. He
     was very pale. I would have asked questions, but he let me
     understand that he would not answer. “I have done wrong for your
     sake, Miss Lilian,” he said.

     I learned afterwards that he had procured my father’s _blanc-seing_
     under pretext of a petition addressed to the Government against the
     Ritualists, and especially against the use of surplices, baldaquins
     over altars, and confessionals.

     I do not know to what stratagems Harry had recourse for obtaining
     the necessary papers. What is certain is that we were married on
     Easter Tuesday, before the Registrar of the county, after which
     Jedediah gave us the nuptial benediction in a little chapel of the
     Baptist communion situated in the environs of Plymouth
     (_Portsmouth_). He married us without looking at us. I have never
     seen a scene more strange, nor a man more unfortunate.

     He refused to come and share the wedding-cake with us, which we ate
     at my sister’s.

But those English love-marriages between rash young people by no mean
always end in living happily all the rest of their days; and the story
soon turns tragic, its scene shifting from the Island. After that secret
wedding, Harry returns to London, leaving his wife in an awkward
position, where Jedediah is her only comfort. Love still blinds her eyes
to the selfishness of Harry; but the reader sees how she might have been
better off with poor Jedediah, who is not such a villain after all, but
only the Dobbin or Seth Bede of the tale. The time comes when her
marriage can no longer be hidden. Harry takes lodgings for her in London
at the house of a Mrs Benson, whose husband, being employed at the
Bricklayers’ Arms Goods Station, finds it convenient to live in a
four-roomed house in Shoreditch, too large for a quiet couple.

To this sympathetic landlady, Lilian relates the foregoing story, with
many tears and gulps of _tisane_, a refreshment, it seems, known to
Shoreditch sickbeds. Her child is born dead. The young mother in her
feverish weakness fancies that Jedediah has revengefully contrived some
defect in the ceremony, and cries out to have her marriage made legally
complete at the parish church. Harry, moved by her delirium, writes to
both parents, confessing the truth. A curate is sent for, who politely
but hastily says a few prayers at the sick-bed, then hurries off to a
tea-party at the West-end. Lilian dies the same night. Harry weeps, to
be sure, but soon grows tired of sitting up with the dead, and comes
down to smoke a pipe with the landlord.

Next day Gordon _père_ arrives in a great rage, but, at the sight of his
dead daughter-in-law, he is touched to the point of taking off his hat,
as English gentlemen, it appears, will do on such special occasions. Mr
North, on his arrival, shows natural grief, which is soon turned to
wrath by the sight of a crucifix laid on his daughter’s breast, contrary
to “the statute of the fifteenth year of Elizabeth,” as he knows well;
and he gives up all hope of her eternal welfare, on hearing how her last
moments had been corrupted by the prayers of an Anglican priest. Mrs
Benson, who takes that wide view of religion spread in France by such
divines as the Savoyard Vicar and such poets as Beranger, in vain tries
to comfort him.

“What! Is she lost for such a small matter? The curate did not stay ten
minutes. I know nothing about any of your sects; but I am sure that
there is only one _bon Dieu_ for all of us; and Benson thinks so too.”

Jedediah’s grief is not less deep but more reasonable. It is he who
performs the service when, on a snowy evening, Lilian is buried in
Bethnal Green Cemetery.

But the sensational story has a cynical epilogue. Kind Mrs Benson, _qui
sent son Dickens_, never forgets her young lodger. One Sunday, as her
husband is reading _Lloyd’s News_, which he spells out conscientiously
from the “_premier Londres_ of M. Jerrold to the last line of the
advertisements,” he exclaims at a paragraph stating that a clergyman,
named North, formerly of the Isle of Wight, had been caught trying to
break images over the altar of Exeter Cathedral, and sent to an asylum
as a madman. Nothing is heard of Jedediah, and we can only trust that he
duly succeeded to the Newport pastorate and found some consoling
helpmeet in the congregation. Of Harry there is no news till some years
later, when the Bensons go to Cardiff to meet a married daughter
returning from New Zealand. Calling at the Gordons’ house, they learn
that the father is dead, and that Harry, now his own master, is about to
marry a Miss Jones of Ryde, not indeed the proud Arabella, but her
younger sister Florence, to whom time has transferred his facile
affections.

The last scene introduces Miss Florence going over the house soon to be
her own, and finding in a drawer an old black glove torn and soiled.
Harry denies all knowledge of it, but when his new beloved proposes to
throw it away, he shows that it has some value for him. The suspicious
damsel sulks, plays off on his jealousy a cousin in the Scots Greys,
refuses to waltz with her _fiancé_, except at the price of his giving up
that glove. He sighs as a widower, but obeys as a wooer. Giving one
secret kiss to poor Lilian’s glove, he resigns it to the triumphant Miss
Jones, who flings it on the fire, and holds out her white fingers for
the forgiven Harry to kiss, yet not without a smiling stab at that
unknown rival’s memory--“Her hand was larger than mine!”

Now for the moral of this realistic romance. “Let him who has never
committed a cowardice of the kind, who has never sacrificed a memory to
a hope, the forgotten love to the fresh one, the dead to the living, let
him cast at Harry the first stone!” To which poor Jedediah will not say
_Amen_.

The latest scene for fiction set in the Isle of Wight--_All Moonshine_,
by Richard Whiteing--is no photograph of actual society like that just
reduced, but a most imaginative romance, not to say a wild nightmare
inspired by the dangers of over-population, and based on the statistical
claim quoted in my first chapter, that the world’s eighteen hundred
millions or so could all find room to meet in this Island. The author,
falling asleep at Ventnor, dreams of such a universal rendezvous as
coming about in the form of astral bodies from all ends of the earth,
when some very strange things happen among the unsubstantial multitude.
At one moment it seems as if the ghostly armies of England and Germany
were about to close here in a lurid Armageddon; but they are fain to
fraternise before the general peril of an earthquake announced at Shide
as threatening to crack the globe and overwhelm civilisation in waves of
fire let loose from hell. The dreamer awakes to find the world what it
is, with nations and classes seeking to fatten on their neighbours’
poverty, kings and statesmen watching each other’s armaments in mutual
suspicion, priests hoisting flags on their churches in exultation over
the slaughter of fellow-Christians, and only an unpractical poet or
romancer to cry here and there--

    Ah! when shall all men’s good
    Be each man’s rule, and universal peace
    Lie like a shaft of light across the land,
    And like a lane of beams athwart the sea,
    Thro’ all the circle of the golden year.

[Illustration: CALBOURNE]



COWES


We now come to one of the most important places in the Island, a place
that holds up its double head for second to none in the way of dignity
and fashion, though it began life as two small castles built by Henry
VIII. at the Medina’s mouth to protect the harbour of Newport.

    The two great Cows that in loud thunder roar,
    This on the eastern, that the western shore,
      Where Newport enters stately Wight.

“I knew when there was not above three or four houses at Cowes,” says
Sir John Oglander, who yet had counted three hundred ships at anchor
there; “and I was and am persuaded that if our wars and troubles had not
unfortunately happened, it would have grown as famous as Newport.”
Another scourge of the Island in his time was the activity of lawyers to
stir up strife, whereas the first attorney who ventured himself here had
been ignominiously charivaried out of this Arcadian scene by order of
the Governor. But it might be, he admits, that lawyers were no more to
blame than the absence of ships of war, once such good customers for
the Islanders’ produce. “Now peace and law hath beggared us all, so
that within my memory many of the gentlemen and almost all the yeomanry
are undone.” One observes the distinction drawn by this rule of thumb
economist between the ruinous effects of civil war and the profitable
accidents of helping to ruin another country.

It is easy to understand how Cowes came to be the Tilbury and Gravesend
of Newport, then by and by to supplant it as the Island’s chief port. In
the days of small vessels, such a harbour as Newport offers was roomy
and accessible enough, while it had the advantage of being more out of
the way of hostile attack. London, Glasgow, Newcastle, Exeter, Bristol
are only a few examples of great ports lying some way up navigable
rivers; then on the larger scale of the world, one at once thinks of
Calcutta, Canton, Montreal, New Orleans, Rosario, and so on. Some of
these inland havens have kept their commercial position only by pains
and cost hardly worth while to save half-a-dozen miles of water
carriage; so, as ships grew too big for the tiny wharves of Newport,
they would unload at the mouth of the river that makes the one good
harbour on the Island. Thus Cowes grew apace; and a century ago it bid
fair to be at least the second Wight town, till Ryde took a sudden start
in prosperity. Like Ryde and Yarmouth it throve by victualling the great
war fleets and convoys that often lay wind-bound in the Solent. But
Cowes got a special string to its bow in the ship-building industry
rooted here, then another in its position as headquarters of Solent
yachting; and royal favour went to bring it into fashion. There was a
time when it aspired to be a mere Margate or Sandown, in honour of which
a Georgian poet named Jones is moved to predict--

    No more to foreign baths shall Britain roam
    But plunge at Cowes and find rich health at home!

To tell the truth, Cowes hardly shines in this capacity. Its bathing is
not everywhere safe in the currents of the Solent; and to pick out a
sandy oasis on the rough beach one must go eastward towards Gurnard Bay.
Nowadays, indeed, the place is so spoilt by the patronage of European
royalties and American millionaires, that it does not much care to lay
itself out for the holiday-making _bourgeois_ and his olive branches.
The straggling town, divided by the Medina, has no particular charm
unless that of a marine flavour. It is far from being so picturesque as
Ventnor, or so imposing as Ryde; and apart from the artificial beauties
of the parks enclosing it, its surroundings are commonplace beside those
of Newport. Its main interest is on the sea-face looking over the
shallow waters of the Solent, beside which East Cowes huddles along a
narrow main street, that winds up and down, in and out, here and there,
making a quaint show of houses old and new, half and half, dwellings
mixed with shops, an unusual proportion of them providing refreshments,
when they do not display such wares as ship’s lanterns, and other
sea-fittings from cordage to carronades. The central point is the
steamboat pier opposite the station; then further west comes the
Victoria Pier with its pavilion, on a scale that shows how little Cowes
cares to cater for your common Saturday to Monday visitor.

Cowes makes the Mecca of the yachtsman, as St Andrews of the golfer. It
is the most famous station of those idle craft that in our day diverge
into two different forms--the steam vessels, models of comfort and
elegance, even luxury, some of them fitted for making pleasure-cruises
all over the world; and the mere sailing boats, that seem utterly
useless but as racing machines to skim like butterflies over some quiet
sea, with their decks as often as not half under water--“a sort of metal
torpedo with two or three balloons fixed on to it.” This is a pastime as
expensive as the turf, and sometimes as unsatisfactory to the amateurs
who seek social glory thereby. Not all the gentlemen who swagger about
in blue jackets here are so much at home on the ocean wave as for the
nonce they would fain appear. Not all those big and smart craft so much
admired in the roads of Cowes are very familiar with the breeze or the
billow of the open sea. The sailing masters and crews of some of them
must have a good easy time of it; and one suspects they prefer being in
the service of a fine-weather sailor, whose purse is his main
qualification for seamanship, to taking orders from some old salt who
knows the ropes as well as they do. We remember Jack Brag and his
skipper Bung. But there are yachtsmen of another school, whose blood has
the salt in it that goes so far to make England what it is, men who,
without having the means to own idle vessels, dearly love playing the
mariner in good earnest, and can spend no happier holiday than in
working some small craft with their own hands, taking rough and smooth
as it comes, getting health and pleasure out of return for a month or so
to something like the old Viking life, and all its tingling charm of a
struggle with the forces of nature. Sailors of this stamp can here buy
or hire craft of all kinds, but perhaps more cheaply at other ports on
the Solent, for it is not only at regatta-time that Cowes has a name for
high charges.

The Solent with its almost landlocked waters, its many creeks, and its
havens of refuge never more than a few miles off, makes a good
cruising-ground for small craft such as can be sailed by the owner with
the help of one or two hands working for love or money. Yet there are
special difficulties here in the broken shore-line, the shifting banks,
the shallows, and the treacherous currents, that call for some nautical
ability, and even local experience to interpret the many buoys and
beacons marking the channels of a watery labyrinth. The chief danger,
apart from an occasional rough sea and squalls to be looked out for
through openings in the land, is the violence of the tides, that
encounter one another from each end of the Solent, so as to produce the
peculiar result of a double high water--the ebb, after an hour or so,
being driven back up to Southampton by a fresh flow.

There are, of course, various yacht clubs that take the Solent for their
province; but the admiral of them all is the “Squadron,” one of the most
exclusive clubs in the world, whose members have the much coveted right
to fly St George’s white pennant on their yachts, and other privileges.
Its membership is the port for which some of the most sumptuous yachts
are fitted out. Many a millionaire would give a large slice of his
fortune for admission to this body; but ill-gotten gold that buys
titles, social advantages, and lordly yachts, is not an _Open Sesame_
here; and there are aspirants who know, like Spenser, what it is in this
matter “to have thy Prince’s grace and want _his_ peers’.” Princely,
royal or imperial patronage is seldom wanting for the regatta at the
beginning of August, with which, passing on to the coast from Goodwood,
the fashionable world disperses itself for the season in the blaze of
fireworks that marks the end of “Cowes week.” During this week, Cowes
becomes the focus of “smart” society, money and champagne flying over it
like sea spray, and all its accommodation crammed; indeed, it would have
no room for half its visitors, if not a few of them did not bring their
own quarters in the shape of the innumerable yachts that by day are
radiant with rainbow bunting, and by night illuminate the waters of
the

[Illustration: YACHTING AT COWES]

Solent with thousands of lights. It is said indeed that, of late years,
yachting begins to decline in fashion; that the expensive craft are
allowed to take longer holidays, and that “Cowes week” is not filled
with such a cloud of canvas. It may well be that our “smart set” find
the winds and waves disturbing to the calculations of Bridge.

During Cowes’ water-carnival, some of the finest yachts afloat may still
be seen at anchor off the R. Y. S. Clubhouse, standing out prominently
on the sea-front, with its flagstaff and jetty, at which only members
and officers of the navy are privileged to land, under the muzzles of a
miniature battery brought from Virginia Water for holiday service. This
building, whose glass gallery is the grand stand of yacht racing, has
been adapted from the old castle of Henry VIII., in the seventeenth
century used as a state prison. Here Sir William Davenant spent his
hours of confinement in writing an heroic poem, _Gondibert_, which one
fears to be hardly read nowadays, unless it makes part of prison
libraries. There are some score cantos of it, filling eight score or so
of folio pages; and this, as in the contemporary case of the bear and
the fiddle, brings the story only to the middle, for as the author puts
it in metaphors readily suggested at Cowes, “‘tis high time to strike
Sail, and cast Anchor (though I have run but half my Course) when at the
helm I am threatened with Death, who, though he can visit us but once,
seems troublesome, and even in the Innocent may beget such a gravity as
diverts the Musick of Verse.”

The parade of Cowes runs on beyond the castle, past gardened villas, to
open out as the Green, a strip of sward set with seats that make the pit
of the open-air theatre for which the Solent is stage in its
yacht-racing season. At the end of this is the point marked by a brick
ivy-clad mansion called Egypt, why so called, one knows not, unless that
the name, occurring elsewhere in England, seems sometimes connected with
gipsy memories. Did one wish to go gipsying, this end of Cowes was once
fairly well adapted for such purposes; but cottages of gentility keep on
spreading along the sea edge.

At Egypt is the bathing beach, from which the sea wall extends onward
towards a bank of wild shrubbery called the “Copse,” a miniature
Undercliff, where, rooted in singularly tenacious mud, an almost
impassable jungle offers scope for the adventurous imagination of youth.
This is skirted by a rough path above the shore, where at morn and eve
may be seen flesh and blood _replicas_ of Frederick Walker’s “Bathers,”
or of Mr Tuke’s “August Blue” scene, exhibited “without the formality of
an apparatus,” as the Oxford man in _Humphrey Clinker_ has it. As for
the bathing-machines further back, a guide-book of his generation states
that “from the manner in which they are constructed, and the position
they occupy, a person may safely commit himself to the bosom of Neptune
at almost any state of the tide.” Yet one may hint to strangers not
desirous of committing themselves to Abraham’s bosom, that the currents
run strong here, and that some parts of the shallow shore deepen
suddenly.

One of the sandiest bathing-places on this shore is at Gurnard’s Bay,
about two miles along, which has an hotel of its own and other
beginnings of a seaside resort. This used to be a landing-place from the
mainland; and here was the site of another Roman villa. The guide-books
of a future generation may have more to say about Gurnard’s Bay; but I
must ask the reader now to turn back to Cowes.

At the back of the town is its Church, built in the time of the
Commonwealth, that did not much foster church architecture; and behind
this stands the manorial mansion of Northwood Park in somewhat gloomy
grounds opened by funereally classical gates. The older parish church is
that of Northwood, some way inland, which itself, in its day, had been
an offshoot of Carisbrooke. Northwood Park hived for a time the foreign
nuns who lately swarmed to other quarters at Ryde. This mansion had long
been looked on by true blue Protestants as a half-way house to Rome,
when it was the home of William George Ward, a prominent name in the
“Oxford Movement” that so much shifted the Anglican establishment’s
centre of gravity. He went over to the Roman Church, and moved to
another house near Totland Bay, where his neighbour Tennyson had warm
words to say over his grave--

    My friend, the most unworldly of mankind,
    Most generous of all ultramontanes, Ward,
    How subtle at tierce and quart of mind with mind,
    How loyal in the following of thy Lord!

The chief hotels and lodging-houses are found on that part of the parade
east of the “Squadron,” which at one time occupied the Gloucester Hotel.
The crooked main street leads us to the river suburb of Mill Hill, and
to the floating bridge by which the Medina is crossed to East Cowes.
There has been talk of a tunnel here, as under broader channels; but the
amphibious folk of this port are still content with their ferry.

East Cowes, though at one time the more important side, has long been
eclipsed by its western neighbour. It may be described as a suburb of
ambitious roads mounting the wooded background from a rather mean
frontage, so as to bring into curious juxtaposition some characteristics
of Norwood and Rotherhithe. At the seaward end it has a short esplanade
of its own, from which is to be had a fine sunset view over the Solent.
The old fortress on this side has entirely disappeared. The most
interesting house here is Slatwoods, the boyhood’s home of Dr Arnold of
Rugby, his father having been collector of customs at this port. Arnold,
born in a house at West Cowes now marked by a tablet, but brought up on
the other side, always had

[Illustration: OSBORNE HOUSE]

an affection for Slatwoods, and slips of its great willow tree were
transplanted to his successive homes at Laleham, Rugby, and Fox How.

East Cowes is shut in by the grounds of East Cowes Castle and Norris
Castle, mansions of the modern Gothic period, that have had noble
occupants and royal guests. Norris Castle, at the point of the estuary
open to briny breezes from every quarter, was in 1833 tenanted by the
Duchess of Kent, sea-air having been ordered for her daughter’s precious
health. The Princess Victoria made here a collection of sea-weeds which
she presented to her friend Maria da Gloria, the girl-queen of Portugal;
and no doubt in this sequestered nook she was able to go about more
freely than at Bognor or Brighton. She seems to have much enjoyed her
stay on the Solent, probably then taking a fancy to this neighbourhood,
which in later life led to the purchase of Osborne, her favourite
residence when Balmoral was too bleakly bracing. The park begins beyond
the ascent out of East Cowes, extending along the wooded northern shore
towards the small inlet called King’s Quay, that pretends to be a
landing-place of King John, who, after signing Magna Charta, is
dubiously said to have sulked here among the pirates of the Island.

Osborne Manor, whose name has been clipped to so aristocratic a sound,
would have been originally no more than an _Austerbourne_ or
_Oyster-bed_, that, from the Bowermans, an old Island family not yet
extinct, came to belong to one Eustace Mann, who, during the troubles
of the Civil War, is supposed to have buried a mass of gold and silver
coins in a coppice still known as Money Coppice, and having forgotten to
mark the spot, was never afterwards able to recover his treasure. Had it
been found in the course of the last half century, a curious lawsuit
might have arisen between the rights of the Crown and of the Queen as
private owner. By marriage the estate came into the hands of the
Blachfords. From Lady Isabella Blachford it was purchased by Queen
Victoria in 1840, who enlarged her property here to an area of upwards
of 5000 acres, bounded north by the Solent, south by the Ryde and
Newport road, east by the inlet of King’s Quay, and west by the Medina.

The Blachford mansion, spoken of a century ago as one of the largest and
best in the Island, gave place to the palace of Osborne, royally adorned
with pictures and statuary, that turns its Palladian face to the Solent,
while from the road behind only the flag tower and campanile can be seen
peeping above the rich foliage of the park. A “Swiss Cottage” contained
the model dairy and kitchen, where the princesses are understood to have
been instructed in housewifely arts, and a museum of curiosities
collected by the princes in their travels through an empire on which the
sun never sets. At Barton Manor-house, a picturesque old mansion added
to the estate and adapted as residence of the steward, was the Prince
Consort’s home-farm, which “a Mr Wilkinson, a clergyman” is quoted in
guide-books as praising for a model of all that could be done to make
the best of a naturally poor soil. The late Queen’s love of seclusion
prompted her to increase and enclose her demesne, till she could drive
for miles in her own grounds, kept strictly private during the royal
residence.

Behind Osborne, overlooking the Medina, is Whippingham Church, whose
parish takes in Osborne and East Cowes, as West Cowes was a dependent on
Northwood. This church, sometimes attended by the royal family, is rich
in mortuary memorials, among them Theed’s monument of the Prince
Consort, placed here by “his broken-hearted and devoted widow, Queen
Victoria,” and the chapel that is the tomb of Prince Henry of
Battenberg, married in Whippingham Church, 1885. The structure, finely
situated, has a singularly un-English look, its German Romanesque
features understood to have been inspired by the taste of the Prince
Consort, on which account her late Majesty’s loyal subjects would fain
have admired the effect, as many of them could not honestly do. A wicked
tale is told of a gentleman well known in the architectural world, who,
on a visit at Whippingham, was surprised by a summons to Osborne.
Unfortunately, this stranger had not been furnished with a _carte du
pays_, and when the Queen led the conversation to Whippingham Church,
asking advice what should be done with it, he bluntly gave his opinion:
“The only thing to be done, madam, is to pull it all down!”--whereupon
the uncourtly adviser found his audience soon brought to an end.

Other stories or legends are locally current, illustrating the
difficulties of etiquette that hampered her Majesty’s desire to be on
friendly terms with her less august neighbours. One hears of guests
scared off by the sight of a red cloth on the steps to mark how royalty
would be taking tea or counsel within; and of others suddenly bundled
out of the way, when the Queen’s unpretentious equipage was announced as
approaching. It seems that majesty’s neighbours were not all
neighbourly. A lady of title here is said to have closed her gates to
the Queen’s carriage, which never again took that direction. Such an
assertion of private rights would have astonished that high-titled
Eastern potentate, of whom it is told that, being entertained at the
seat of one of our greatest dukes, he advised the then Prince of Wales
to have their host executed without delay as much too powerful a
subject!

After the death of Queen Victoria, the present Sovereign gave up this
estate to be in the main a public memorial of her, though Osborne
Cottage is still occupied by the Princess Henry of Battenberg, Governor
of the Island with which she has so many happy and sorrowful
associations. The palace has been in part adapted as a home for
convalescent officers, the room in which the Queen died and other

[Illustration: WHIPPINGHAM CHURCH]

apartments being kept as used by her, to make a sight at present open on
certain days. In the grounds are the new buildings of a Naval College,
whose cadets will be brought up in view of the famous anchorage haunted
by memories of our “wooden walls,” and often stirred by the mighty
machines that have taken their place, we trust, to the same good
purpose.

Of all the naval pageants these shores have beheld, none could be more
impressive than when, that dull winter afternoon of 1901, stirred only
by tolling bells and booming minute guns, the body of Europe’s most
venerated Sovereign was borne across the Solent through a mile-long lane
of British and foreign war-ships, on her last journey to Windsor.



THE GATES OF THE ISLAND


Before turning away from the Solent, we may take a look at its northern
shores, and the mainland ports making gateways of the strait and island
that serve their populations as playground.

Cowes lies opposite Southampton, with which it has direct communication
up the long inlet of Southampton Water, the least expeditious passage to
the Island, but the pleasantest in fine weather, most of the hour’s
voyage being by that wooded arm of the Solent, where on one side stretch
the heaths and copses of the New Forest’s Beaulieu corner; while the
other is broken by the mouths of the Hamble and of the Itchen. Between
these creeks, stands conspicuous the Netley Hospital, said to be the
longest building in England, overshadowing Netley Castle, adapted as a
modern mansion, and the picturesque old ruins of Netley Abbey, fallen to
be a junketing resort for Southampton. The Royal Victoria Hospital, a
name well earned by the late Queen’s interest in it, was built for
soldiers invalided in the Crimean War, and became to our army what the
Haslar Hospital, at Gosport, is to the navy. Netley Bay is now
headquarters of the Motor-Yacht Club, housed in an ex-Admiralty yacht.

Too many of the Isle of Wight passengers who embark or land at
Southampton Pier, know not what a mistake they make in hurrying on
without a look at one of the most interesting old towns in England,
which from the railway or the docks may appear to be no more than one of
its most prosperous ports. The Northam and Southam of early days have
here grown into a still growing municipality, whose lively streets imbed
some most notable fragments of the past, now reverently preserved. The
largest portion of the walls is a stretch of curious archways facing the
west shore, behind which filthily picturesque slums have been cleared
away and replaced by a pile of model lodging-houses that our era of
sanitation puts in bold contrast with the Middle Ages. These Arcades, as
they are called, seem to have been the defensible entrances to a line of
mansions, very eligible for their period. Behind, beside the spire of
Southampton’s oldest church, is a Tudor house said to have accommodated
Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn on their brief honeymoon. The oldest of the
houses on the sea front, by the “King’s Quay” as it used to be called,
is believed to have been tenanted by King John, perhaps by Henry III;
and among the many King John’s lodges and King John’s palaces scattered
over England, this seems to have the best right to the honour thus
claimed for it.

Further on, near the end of the pier, is the West Gate, under which
Henry V.’s men-at-arms and archers clanked out on their way to
Agincourt.

    Suppose that you have seen
    The well-appointed king at Hampton pier
    Embark his royalty, and his brave fleet
    With silken streamers the young Phœbus fanning:
    Play with your fancies, and in them behold
    Upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing;
    Hear the shrill whistle which doth order give
    To sounds confused; behold the threaden sails,
    Borne with the invisible and creeping wind,
    Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,
    Breasting the lofty surge: O do but think
    You stand upon the rivage and behold
    A city on the inconstant billows dancing;
    For so appears this fleet majestical,
    Holding due course to Harfleur.

Such a floating city as Shakespeare saw here in his mind’s eye, would
seem but a hamlet beside the streets of craft from all the world that
now crowd Southampton docks. Behind them, near the foot of High Street,
is a building which, if tradition lie not, may boast itself the oldest
house in England, for, stable as it is now, it sets up to be a remnant
of King Canute’s residence, who on the shore hereabouts, perhaps enacted
his famous scene of commanding the waves, more effectually restrained by
the heroes of modern industry; but on that oft-told tale Leslie Stephen
drily remarks, “that an anecdote is simply the polite name of a lie.”

From the Quay quarter, what a well-known novelist styles the “brightest,
airiest, lightest, prettiest High Street in England,” leads up to the
Bargate, imposing survival of mediæval architecture, with which
Southampton is proud to hamper her busy main thoroughfare, long after
prosaic Londoners have banished their obstructive Temple Bar. The long
street, hence known as “Above Bar,” goes out between pleasant parks,
then as a lordly avenue that begins one of the finest high-roads in the
kingdom, running on to Winchester. As this avenue is approached, on the
left stands a building that should be viewed with grateful respect by
all conscientious tourists and their guides, since it is the
headquarters of the Ordnance Survey maps. Further on, beside the road,
is reached Southampton Common, one of the prettiest natural parks and
playgrounds at the gate of any great town, seeming to be, what indeed it
is, a half cleared bit of the New Forest.

The woods of the New Forest come within a few miles of Southampton,
which has other pleasant scenes about its salubrious site on a gravelly
spit projecting between the Itchen and the Test, angling streams of
fame. Its sea-front on the West Bay is hardly an admirable point unless
at high water, as it more often shows a green expanse of slime and
malodorous weed that by no means _ladet zum Baden_, fit rather for the
paddling of adventurous mud larks. But the citizens, more ingenious than
Canute, catch the elusive tide in a basin that makes an excellent
open-air swimming bath. The strong smell of seaweed is offensive to some
strangers, who may comfort themselves by considering it as wholesome:
had this rubbish bank been German, it would probably be utilised for
some sort of _Kur_, with a three weeks’ course of sanatory sniffs, and a
_Nach-kur_ of whey treatment in the Isle of Wight. Southampton had once
indeed a chalybeate spa of its own, to which its Victoria Rooms seems a
monument.

This old seaport has had notable sons, from Isaac Watts, whose statue in
the park looks down on a flower-bed visited by busy bees, to Charles
Dibdin, whose nautical songs were not so well adapted to the restraint
of angry passions. If all tales be true, its oldest celebrity is that
Bevis of Hampton, whose story, indeed, inconvenient critics father upon
a twelfth century French romance; and it has certainly been told in
several languages: so far off as Venice, this widely popular hero is
found figuring as a sort of local Punch. But for the confusion of all
who doubt his Hampshire origin, the name Bevis Mount still preserves on
the Itchen bank the memory of a stronghold he threw up here against the
Danes; and who was he if not Bevis of Hampton? The story also gives him
a connection with the Isle of Wight; so, as we began with dull history,
let us draw towards an end with a taste of what, one fears, must count
rather as fiction, perhaps expanded about some core of legendary fact.

_Sir Bevis of Hampton_ was one of the favourite romances of the feudal
age; and his adventures were familiar to John Bunyan’s unregenerate
youth, if little known to the Southampton boys who in our time pass the
sixth standard, however well versed they may be in our own “penny
dreadful” literature. Yet _Ivanhoe_, _Pathfinder_, and the _Three
Musketeers_ rolled into one, would make a tame hero beside Sir Bevis. As
became a hero, he had difficulties to contend with all along, the first
being an unnatural mother who, one grieves to say, was a Scottish
princess. Married to Guy, Earl of Southampton, whose name suggests some
connection with the still more famous lord of Warwick, she preferred a
foreign prince, Sir Murdour, a name that gives plain hint of his nature,
as well as a dim anticipation of David Copperfield’s tyrant.

Guy being betrayed by his wife and slain by her paramour when Bevis was
only seven years old, the wicked pair’s next object would naturally be
to get rid of a child who might avenge his father. With a fortunate want
of wisdom often shown by the bad characters of romance, the mother did
not see to this business herself, but charged it on Saber, the child’s
uncle, by whom he had been reared; then the kind Saber, as proof of
compliance, sent her his nephew’s princely garments sprinkled with the
blood of a pig, while he kept the boy safe and sound, disguised as a
shepherd. But Bevis had too high a spirit to await the opportunity of
revenge promised by his uncle when he should come to manhood. Feeding
his sheep on the downs, he became so infuriated by the sounds of revelry
in which his mother and her new husband sought to drown the memory of
their crime, that he burst into the hall, knocking down the porter who
would have shut him out, unpacked his young heart of its indignation
before the whole company, and with three blows of a “mace” laid his
stepfather senseless before them all. Thus did this seven-year-old
princeling show a resolution that might well put Hamlet to shame; and as
he was so terrible with a stick, we may guess what feats he would
perform when it got to sword-play.

The guilty mother was so much displeased by such conduct, that she
punished her precociously brave child by sending him to be sold for a
slave in heathen lands. Thereby he came into the hands of a Saracen king
named Ermyn, whose daughter, Josyan, at once fell in love with the young
captive, according to the romantic precedent followed in such cases down
to the days of Pocahontas. Ermyn, too, recognising the boy’s quality at
a glance, proposed to make him his heir and son-in-law on condition of
his abjuring Christianity. But the heroes of old were as orthodox as
gallant. Bevis, though not yet in his teens, lifted up such a bold
testimony against the errors of Mahound, that the king saw well to drop
the subject, and for the present took him on as page, promising him
further advancement in the course of time. Still no amount of friendly
intercourse with unbelievers could shake the youngster’s faith. He had
reached the age of fifteen, when certain Saracen knights rashly ventured
to touch on his religion, whereupon he slew them all, some sixty or so,
with remarkable ease. Ermyn forgave him for this once, and Josyan with
kisses and salves soon cured him of his wounds; then, in return for
their kindness, he obligingly rid them of a fearful wild boar that had
long been the terror of the country.

These petty exploits had made merely the work of our hero’s ’prentice
hand; the time was now come for him to be dubbed a knight, presented on
the occasion with a marvellous sword called “Morglay,” and the best
horse in the world, by name “Arundel.” Ermyn had soon need of a peerless
champion. Bradmond, King of Damascus, was demanding Josyan’s hand, with
threats to lay waste the land if his suit were refused; but a lad of
mettle like Bevis, of course, found no difficulty in laying low that
proud Paynim and all his host. Josyan was so lost in admiration of such
prowess, that she proposed to her Christian knight after a somewhat
unmaidenly fashion; but Bevis would give her no encouragement till, for
his sake, she professed herself ready to renounce the Moslem faith.

But when the king heard how his daughter was being converted to
Christianity, his patience came to an end. Not daring to use open
violence against the invincible youth, he sent him on an embassy to King
Bradmond, his late adversary, who at the point of Bevis’ sword had
lately sworn to be Ermyn’s vassal, and was now commanded, on his
allegiance, to secure the bearer of the sealed letter which Bevis
carried to his own destruction. The author of _Hamlet_ may have taken
another hint from this incident. But our impetuous knight needed no
treacherous credentials to get him into trouble. At Damascus he found a
crowd of Saracens worshipping an idol, which his sound principles moved
him to knock over into the mud with proper contempt: the Mohammedans,
whatever their doctrinal shortcomings might be, were, as a matter of
fact, strongly set against idolatry, but Christian minstrels allowed
themselves a poetical license on such points. King Bradmond and all his
men, backed by the fanatical population of Damascus, were odds too great
even for a pious hero. Bevis, fairly overpowered for once, was thrown
into a dungeon with two ravenous dragons to keep him company. It was
only a matter of some twenty-four hours’ combat for him to kill the
dragons with the butt-end of a staff that came to his hand; but hunger
proved a sorer enemy. Now we have the two most familiar lines of this
long poem, as quoted in _King Lear_--

    Rats and mice and such small deer,
    Were his meat for seven long year.

At the end of seven years, he escaped by something like a miracle, and
after visiting Jerusalem, rode off to Josyan, whom he found still
faithful to him at heart, though formally the bride of an outrageous
heathen, the King of Mounbraunt. To his castle Bevis proceeded, not
without blood-curdling adventures on the way, and introduced himself as
a poor palmer, welcomed for the sake of her Christian lover by Josyan,
though she did not recognise him so soon as did his good horse Arundel,
that in its vehement excitement at his voice outdoes the fidelity of
Argus; then his springing on its back without touching a stirrup reveals
him like the bending of Ulysses’ bow. Having got the king out of the way
by means of a somewhat unchivalrous fib, Bevis and Josyan eloped
together, meeting encounters which showed how little his long
imprisonment had unsteeled the paladin’s sinews. His first feat was to
kill a brace of lions at one blow; and next he fell in with a giant
named Ascapard who, wounded all over his thirty feet of length, was glad
to save his life by becoming Bevis’ page.

It was now high time for our hero to be turning homewards. Several years
back, before his imprisonment, he had casually fallen in with one of his
cousins, sent to search him out and bring him to the immediate
assistance of his uncle Saber, who had fled to the Isle of Wight for
refuge from the tyrant Murdour. As the first stage of his journey, Bevis
proceeded by sea to Cologne, where the bishop happened to be another
uncle of his, so he took the opportunity to have Josyan and Ascapard
christened, the latter behaving most irreverently under the rite, so as
to play the part of a mediæval gargoyle in the edifying story. The
bishop, for his part, used the opportunity of having such a champion at
hand to destroy a fiery dragon that infested the country; and in return
for this service of some little difficulty, equipped Sir Bevis with a
hundred knights, at the head of whom he landed in Hampshire, leaving
Josyan at Cologne with Ascapard in attendance.

Under an assumed name, so grown and sun-tanned that his own mother
treated the stranger politely, he now introduced himself into the house
of Sir Murdour, undertaking to serve him against Saber, but playing a
trick on him in the way of carrying off his best horses and arms to the
enemy. Before coming to an end with that caitiff, however, Bevis had to
return to Cologne to rescue Josyan from certain perils she had got into
through her devotion to him; then at last they both joined his uncle in
the Isle of Wight. The local Macbeth’s fate now drew to its fifth act.
In vain he summoned to his aid both a Scotch and a German army. When he
had to do with such prodigies of strength as Bevis and Ascapard, Murdour
could expect nothing but to be overthrown, captured, and boiled into
hounds’ meat in a great caldron of pitch, brimstone, and lead, as duly
befell at Carisbrooke. His wicked wife, hearing how it had fared with
him, very properly threw herself from the top of a high tower. His
triple army had no more fight in them after the death of their leader,
and the delivered citizens of Southampton hailed with joy their true
lord, who at last thought himself entitled to wed Josyan after so long
and chequered a courtship.

But the author of this long poem is not yet out of breath, and he still
takes his hero through what may be called an appendix of adventures, in
which Bevis once more goes abroad. King Edgar’s son so much admired
Arundel’s form in a horse-race at court, that he tried to steal this
peerless steed, and was kicked to death in the stable for his pains. The
angry father was for having the horse’s master hanged; but the barons
got him off with exile. While wandering homeless, his wife presents him
with twin sons, as fresh hostages to their troubled fortune. Ascapard
now turns unfaithful, and steals Josyan from him to restore her to her
Saracen husband; but after a separation of seven years or so all comes
right again, unbelievers and traitors are duly slain as they deserve,
and Bevis meets no further check in his triumphant career of baptising
heathen lands in blood, if not otherwise. Meanwhile, in his absence,
King Edgar spitefully did him further wrong by confiscating the family
estate, which the nephew had handed over to Saber. This injury must be
redressed by a visit of Bevis to London, where his exploits seem hardly
historical. He had now two sturdy sons to back him up, and these being
chips of the old block, they easily contrived to kill sixty thousand
people in a battle fought about Cheapside and Ludgate Hill, which
brought the king to a reasonable mood.

    So many men at once were never seen dead,
    For the water of Thames for blood wax red
    From St Mary Bowe to London Stone.

In short, one of Bevis’ sons won the crown of England, with the hand of
its heiress; the brother was provided with a kingdom abroad; and Bevis
himself returned to another of his foreign dominions, to live happily
ever afterwards till, at a good old age, he, Josyan, and Arundel died
within a few minutes of each other, the knight and his true lady
sumptuously buried in a church, where even his dead body continued to
work miracles.

    Thus ended Bevis of Hampton
    That was so bold a baron.

Have I said enough to persuade strangers that they are wrong in not
stopping at Southampton on a visit to the tourist-haunted Island? To
Americans this port should be of special interest, as hence sailed the
_Mayflower_ and the _Speedwell_, freighted with the hopes of a New
England, but the smaller vessel proving unseaworthy, the adventurers,
all packed on board the _Mayflower_, finally embarked at Plymouth, which
thus gets credit for the departure of an expedition that really set out
from Delft Haven, winged by the parting charge of its large-minded
pastor. I had the pleasure of recommending a stay at Southampton West to
Mr W. D. Howells, who in a recent book owns to having enjoyed it; and
indeed there is more to be seen and enjoyed in or about Southampton than
at many places better famed in the tourist world.

On the west side of Southampton Water, through outskirts of the New
Forest, is soon reached the Boldre River, near the mouth of which stands
Lymington, a town before mentioned as pier of the shortest crossing to
the Island, at its Yarmouth end, where it has been proposed to make a
tunnel from the spit on which Hurst Castle rises. Of Lymington there is
not much else to be said, but that it has a look of having come down in
the world, its trade of shipbuilding not being what it once was, though
the estuary still makes a station for yachts. From the open sea it is
separated by flats, that were utilised as salterns. The scenery in the
background is more taking, where the edge of the New Forest plantations
is soon reached over the heathy swells of Sway Common.

Westward, the crumbling cliffs of the coast are fringed by groups of
hotels and lodging-houses growing along Christchurch Bay to Highcliffe
Castle, which was recently selected as _Kur-ort_ for the Kaiser, who
here seems to have profited by the mild air and by the views of the Isle
of Wight that are the chief attraction of this shore. He may also have
admired the prospect on Hengistbury Head, which some stories make the
scene of the first German invasion of England. Then beyond the mouth of
the Stour and Avon, are reached the purlieus of Bournemouth, where the
Island drops out of sight.

On the other side, between Lymington and Southampton Water, extends to
the Solent a heathy projection of the New Forest, not so much known to
strangers as it deserves. The centre of interest here is the ruined
Beaulieu Abbey, from the materials of which Henry VIII. is said to have
built Hurst Castle, while its foundation is the one good deed recorded
of King John, and that wrung out of him with as much pain as was Magna
Charta. The legend goes that this graceless king, bearing a grudge
against the Cistercian Order, had persuaded or compelled its abbots to
attend a parliament at Lincoln, where he threatened to fling them under
the feet of wild horses. But at night he was terrified by a dream:
brought to trial before a nameless judge, with the churchmen he had
menaced for witnesses against him, he found himself condemned to a
severe scourging at their hands, like his father’s chastisement for the
death of Thomas à Becket. And lo! when he awoke, the lashes had left no
visionary smart. So he saw wise to make expiation for the sacrilege he
had meditated; then his repentance took the established form of building
and endowing a Cistercian Abbey at Beaulieu. The remains still make a
hoary show by the Beaulieu River, further down which Buckler’s Hard was
once a building place of men-of-war; and at the mouth was an old ferry
to the Island. There is not much traffic now about this muddy shore,
near which, towards Lymington, Sowley Pond takes rank as the largest
Hampshire lake. The Solent, here locked in by the Isle of Wight, has the
aspect of a great lake in views that Cobbett took to bear out the title
_Bellus locus_, vernacularly corrupted into _Bewley_. And, as I have
given a catalogue of novels dealing with the Island, let me mention an
excellent one, Mr A. Marshall’s _Exton Manor_, which clearly has for its
scene this edge of the New Forest.

The chief Solent ferry is, of course, at Portsmouth, whereof tourists
might do well to see more than is seen from the railway line to its
pier, the main knot of Isle of Wight communications, while by Gosport
and Southsea, on either side of the town, are alternative crossings to
Ryde. Portsmouth is not so rich in antiquities as Southampton, its most
notable buildings being the fine modern Church of Portsea, one of the
grandest town-halls in England, and the largest Naval Barracks in the
world; but it is an ancient place, interesting as our chief marine
arsenal, which in case of war might become a Sebastopol or a Port
Arthur. Like Plymouth, it is rather a group of towns, Portsmouth,
Portsea, and Southsea, run together beside the wide inlet of the
harbour, on the other side of which stands Gosport. Naturally it has a
marked naval flavour, strongest on the Hard, familiar to so many
generations of Jacks and Sues, behind which the narrow main street of
Landport makes such a lively scene of a Saturday night. Off Gosport Hard
is moored the old _Victory_, whose deck no Briton can tread without
pride, nor would a generous enemy be unmoved on the spot where “mighty
Nelson fell,” and in the gloomy cockpit where he died. Portsmouth has
for another shrine the birthplace of Charles Dickens, at No. 387
Commercial Road, Landport, now cared for as public property and
containing a collection of relics. Walter Besant was also a native, who
has celebrated the scenes of his boyhood in _Celia’s Arbour_.

The great sight is the Dockyard, over which all visitors who can glory
in the name of Briton are conducted by its garrison of Metropolitan
Police; but foreigners must bring special credentials for admission. A
visit to the _enceinte_ of fortifications cannot be recommended, as
these are of a modestly retiring disposition, and make a purposed blank
on the faithful Ordnance Survey maps. Beyond the fort-crowned Downs
behind, some fine country may be reached by tram; but the scenery of the
low island on which Portsmouth has its site, too much consists of
bastions, barracks, prisons, and other useful, but unlovely
institutions.

Southsea, the moral West End of Portsmouth, which is at its east end,
holds out most attractions to tarrying strangers. It seems a favourite
place of residence or sojourn for retired or idle officers of both
services, who enjoy the stir of parades and regimental bands, and the
view of the Solent always alive with yachts, steamers, and men-of-war;
but it is not so well adapted for a quiet family bathing-place, unless
to the taste of nursery maids, who here would be well off for red-coated
and blue-jacketed “followers.” A special feature is the wide Common
cutting off the houses from the sea-front, with its gay piers and long
esplanade leading round the modernised walls of Southsea Castle. Hence
let us take our last gaze upon the wooded shores of the Isle of Wight,
where, four or five miles off across the Solent, Ryde steeple stands up
as the starting-point of our arm-chair tour, now to be ended, I trust,
with the reader’s gratuity of good-will towards his _cicerone_.



INDEX


Adams, Rev. W., 84

Afton Down, 103

Albert, Prince, 107, 151

Alexandrian Pillar, 92

_All Moonshine_, 137

Alum Bay, 115

Alverston, 62

_Amours Anglais_, 128

Approaches to Island, 17, 154

Appuldurcombe, 52

Arnold of Rugby, 148

Arreton, 57

Ashey Down, 57

Atherfield Point, 99


Back of the Island, 77, 92

Badd, E., Epitaph on, 31

Barton Manor-house, 150

Battenberg, Prince of, 11, 151

Battenberg, Princess Beatrice, 11, 46, 152

Beaulieu, 168

Bembridge, 60

Bembridge Down, 61

Benedictine Monks, 27, 53

Benson, story of, 64

Bevis of Hampton, romance, 41, 158

Binstead, 25

Black, William, _quoted_, 90

Blackgang Chine, 97

“Blue Slipper,” the, 77

Bonchurch, 83

Bordwood Forest, 62

Bouldnor Cliffs, 123

Brading, 54

Brighstone or Brixton, 101

Brook Point, 102

Buddle Inn, 89


Calbourne, 124

Cameron, Mrs, 106

Captains of the Island, 8

Carisbrooke, 36
  ---- Castle, 39

Caves at Freshwater, 112

Chale, 98

Chale Bay, 96

Charles I., imprisonment of, 41

Chines, formation of, 74

Clarke, Sir James, 78

Climate, 14

Colepeper, Lord, 9

Colwell Bay, 118

Compton Bay, 102

Consumption Hospital, 88

Cook’s Castle, 74

Cowes, 139

Cripple Path, the, 89

Culver Cliffs, 61


_Dairyman’s Daughter, The_, 58

Davenant’s _Gondibert_, 145

De Montague, “Count.” _See_ Benson

Dewar, Mr G. A. B., _quoted_, 29

Downs, the, 2, 48, 53, 62, 82, 92, etc.

Dunnose, 75
East Cowes, 148

Egypt Point, 146

Elizabeth, Princess, 35, 44

Empress Eugenie, escape of, 23

Englefield, Sir Henry, _quoted_, 22, 98, 115

_Eurydice_, loss of the, 75


Fairfax family in America, 10

Farringford, 106

Fielding at Ryde, 20

Fishbourne, 27

Fitz-Osborne, William, 7

_Flora Vectensis_, 16

Foghorns, 94

Foreland, the, 60

Fossil Forest, 102

Freshwater, 104

Freshwater Bay, 104, 112


Garde Family, 50

Gatcombe, 53

Geology of the Island, 2, 100

Gloucester, Duke of, 44

Godshill, 49

Gosport, 169

Governors of the Island, 10

Grange Chine, 101

Gurnard Bay, 48, 147


Hammond, Colonel, 41

Hamstead Ledges, 123

Harringford, 62

Haven Street, 28

Headon Hill, 117

Highcliffe Castle, 167

History of Island, 5

Holmes, O. W., _quoted_, 15

Holmes, Sir Robert, 120

Hopson, Sir T., 121

Horsey, Sir E., 8, 13, 34

Howells, Mr W. D., 81, 166

Hulverston, 102

Hurst Castle, 44, 118, 167


Industries of the Island, 13

Invasion, alarms of, 95, 122

Isabella de Fortibus, 8, 62


James, Rev. E. B., 38, 56

_Jane the Young Cottager_, 55

Jeffrey, Lord, _quoted_, 73

John, King, 149, 155, 168


Keats in the Island, 47, 73

Ken, Bishop, 101

King of the Island, 8

King’s Quay, 149

Kingston, 100

Knighton, 58


Ladder Chine, 99

Lake, 62

Landslip, the, 85

Lira, Monks of, 7

Lisle Family, 27

Longfellow in the Island, 73

Long Stone, the, 101

“Lot’s Wife,” 114

Luccombe Chine, 75

Lugley Stream, the, 33

Lymington, 17, 119, 167


Main Bench, the, 113

Mantell the geologist, _quoted_, 102

Medina River, 3, 34, 48, 139

Meredith, Mr George, _quoted_, 126

Merston Junction, 49, 62

Military Road, the, 100

Moberley, Bishop, 101

Monks’ Bay, 84

Morland, George, 122

Morley, Henry, 39

Mottistone, 101


Naval College at Osborne, 153

Needles, the, 114

Netley, 154

Nettleston Green, 31

Newchurch, 62

New Forest, the, 157

Newport, 33

Newton, 123

Niton, 90

“Noah’s Nuts,” 111

Nodes, the, 113

Norris Castle, 149

Northwood, 147

Novels about the Island, 125

Nuns from abroad, 147

Nunwell, 55


Oglander, Sir John, 11, 26, 31, 47, 50, 54, 139

Osborne, 149

Osborne, Dorothy, 38


Pan Down, 49

Parkhurst Forest, 46, 123

Peel’s _Fair Isle_, _quoted_, 100

Population of Island, 4

Portsmouth, 17, 169

Pound Green, 106

Priory Bay, 31

Puckaster Cove, 89

Puckpool Fort, 30


Quarr Abbey, 25

Queen’s Bower, 62


Railways of Island, 17, 33

_Ralph Roister Doister_, 124

Redvers Family, 7, 25

Rew Down, 83

Reynolds, J. H., 35

Richmond, Rev. Legh, 55

Rocken End, 96

Roman villas, 6
  ---- Brading, 57
  ---- Carisbrooke, 39

Ross, Alexander, 38

Rowborough remains, 48

_Royal George_, loss of, 22

Royal Yacht Squadron, 144

Ryde, 19


St Boniface Down, 82

St Catherine’s Down, 92

St Catherine’s Point Lighthouse, 93

St George’s Down, 48

St Helens, 31, 59

St John’s, 28

St Lawrence, 88

Sandown, 62

Sandrock, 90

School Green, 106

Scott, Sir W., _quoted_, 48

Scottish Soldiers in Island, 47

Scratchell’s Bay, 113

Sea View, 28

Seismological Observatory, Dr Milne’s, 49

Sewell, Elizabeth, 16, 84

Shanklin, 72

Sheepwash Green, 106

Shide, 49

Shipwrecks, 96

Shorwell, 100

Simeon, Sir John, 36

Solent, the, 1, 28, 143, 154, 168, 170

Solent Tunnel, proposed, 120

Southampton, 17, 155

Southsea, 170

Spithead, 22

Spring Vale, 30

“Squadron,” the, 144

Steephill Castle, 81

Stephens, William, 38

Sterling, John, 84

Swainston, 124

Swinburne, Mr A. C., _quoted_, 89


Temple, Sir W., 39

Tennyson, Lady, 110

Tennyson, Lord, 14, 106, 111, 148

Totland Bay, 117

“Turf Frauds” case, the, 70

Tyndall, Professor, 113


Udall, Nicholas, 124

Undercliff, the, 77


Vane, Sir H., 44

Ventnor, 78

Victoria, Queen, 149


Walpen Chine, 99

Ward, W. G., 147

Wardens of the Island, 8

Webster, T., _quoted_, 85, 116

Week Down, 83, 92

Whippingham, 151

Whitecliff Bay, 61

Whitwell, 53

Wilberforce, Bishop, 101

“Wilderness,” the, 48

Wilfred of Selsey, 7, 56

Wilkes, John, 63

William the Conqueror at Carisbrooke, 7

Wishing Well, 82

Woodvile, Sir E., 8

Wootton, 27

Wordsworth in the Island, 112

Worsley Family, the, 49

Worsley, Sir R., 8, 52

Worsley Monument, 53

Wroxall, 75


Yar, the Eastern, 3, 59, 62

Yar, the Western, 3, 104, 118

Yachting, 142

Yarborough, Lord, 52

Yarbridge, 57

Yarmouth, 119

Yaverland, 61


Zangwill, Mr I., _quoted_, 126

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FOOTNOTES:

 [1] The poet adds a footnote of facts. “The ship, when first she
 filled, fell over so as to dip the flag at her masthead into the sea.
 Then rolling back, she fell over to the other side till her yard-arms
 touched the water. She then righted, and sunk nearly upright. While
 she was sinking, nearly every soul on board came on deck; and I was
 told by Admiral Sotheby, then a lieutenant on board the next ship,
 that as she went down, this mass of people gave a cry so lamentable,
 that it was still ringing in his ears. It was supposed that at the
 time of the accident, above a thousand persons, men and women, were on
 board; not four hundred were saved. The eddy made by the sinking ship
 was so great that a large victualling barge which lay alongside was
 drawn in, and lost with her.”

 [2] The _Errata_ volume of the D.N.B. does penance for a curious slip
 in its account of this half-forgotten worthy, where the Shepherd’s
 Bush Public Library is stated to be a joint-memorial to him and to
 Charles Keene. I was so struck by this odd conjunction of patron
 saints, that I made a pilgrimage of veridification to their reputed
 shrine, and found it was _Leigh Hunt’s_ memory that has been not so
 unequally yoked together with the _Punch_ artist’s.

 [3] There is a model of this broken corner of the shore on the ground
 floor of the Geological Museum in Jermyn Street, but hardly on a large
 enough scale to display its beauty.





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