Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Our Village by Mary Russell Mitford

Part 1 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.




Introduction by Anne Thackeray Ritchie


There is a great deal of admirable literature concerning Miss
Mitford, so much of it indeed, that the writer of this little notice
feels as if she almost owed an apology to those who remember, for
having ventured to write, on hearsay only, and without having ever
known or ever seen the author of 'Our Village.' And yet, so vivid
is the homely friendly presence, so clear the sound of that voice
'like a chime of bells,' with its hospitable cheery greeting, that
she can scarcely realise that this acquaintance exists only in the
world of the might-have-beens.

For people who are beginning to remember, rather than looking
forward any more, there certainly exists no more delightful reading
than the memoirs and stories of heroes and heroines, many of whom we
ourselves may have seen, and to whom we may have spoken. As we read
on we are led into some happy bygone region,--such as that one
described by Mr. du Maurier in 'Peter Ibbetson,'--a region in which
we ourselves, together with all our friends and acquaintances, grow
young again;--very young, very brisk, very hopeful. The people we
love are there, along with the people we remember. Music begins to
play, we are dancing, laughing, scampering over the country once
more; our parents too are young and laughing cheerily. Every now
and then perhaps some old friend, also vigorous and hopeful, bursts
into the book, and begins to talk or to write a letter; early sights
and sounds return to us, we have NOW, and we have THEN, in a
pleasant harmony. To those of a certain literary generation who
read Miss Mitford's memoirs, how many such familiar presences and
names must appear and reappear. Not least among them that of her
biographer, Mr. Harness himself, who was so valued by his friends.
Mrs. Kemble, Mrs. Sartoris, Charles Allston Collins, always talked
of him with a great respect and tenderness. I used to think they
had a special voice with which to speak his name. He was never
among our intimate friends, but how familiar to my recollection are
the two figures, that of Mr. Harness and Miss Harness, his sister
and housekeeper, coming together along the busy Kensington roadway.
The brother and sister were like characters out of some book, with
their kind faces, their simple spiritual ways; in touch with so much
that was interesting and romantic, and in heart with so much that
suffered. I remember him with grey hair and a smile. He was not
tall; he walked rather lame; Miss Harness too was little, looking up
at all the rest of the world with a kind round face and sparkling
eyes fringed with thick lashes. Mary Mitford was indeed happy in
her friends, as happy as she was unfortunate in her nearer

With much that is sad, there is a great deal of beauty and enjoyment
in Miss Mitford's life. For her the absence of material happiness
was made up for by the presence of warm-hearted sensibility, of
enthusiasm, by her devotion to her parents. Her long endurance and
filial piety are very remarkable, her loving heart carried her
safely to the end, and she found comfort in her unreasoning life's
devotion. She had none of the restlessness which is so apt to spoil
much that might be harmonious; all the charm of a certain unity and
simplicity of motive is hers, 'the single eye,' of which Charles
Kingsley wrote so sweetly. She loved her home, her trees, her
surrounding lanes and commons. She loved her friends. Her books
and flowers are real and important events in her life, soothing and
distracting her from the contemplation of its constant anxieties.
'I may truly say,' she once writes to Miss Barrett, 'that ever since
I was a very young girl, I have never (although for some years
living apparently in affluence) been without pecuniary care,--the
care that pressed upon my thoughts the last thing at night, and woke
in the morning with a dreary sense of pain and pressure, of
something which weighed me to the earth.'

Mary Russell Mitford was born on the 16th of December 1787. She was
the only child of her parents, who were well connected; her mother
was an heiress. Her father belonged to the Mitfords of the North.
She describes herself as 'a puny child, with an affluence of curls
which made her look as if she were twin sister to her own great
doll.' She could read at three years old; she learnt the Percy
ballads by heart almost before she could read. Long after, she used
to describe how she first studied her beloved ballads in the
breakfast-room lined with books, warmly spread with its Turkey
carpet, with its bright fire, easy chairs, and the windows opening
to a garden full of flowers,--stocks, honeysuckles, and pinks. It
is touching to note how, all through her difficult life, her path
was (literally) lined with flowers, and how the love of them
comforted and cheered her from the first to the very last. In her
saddest hours, the passing fragrance and beauty of her favourite
geraniums cheered and revived her. Even when her mother died she
found comfort in the plants they had tended together, and at the
very last breaks into delighted descriptions of them.

She was sent to school in the year 1798 to No. 22 Hans Place, to a
Mrs. St. Quintin's. It seems to have been an excellent
establishment. Mary learnt the harp and astronomy; her taste for
literature was encouraged. The young ladies, attired as
shepherdesses, were also taught to skip through many mazy movements,
but she never distinguished herself as a shepherdess. She had
greater success in her literary efforts, and her composition 'on
balloons' was much applauded. She returned to her home in 18O2.
'Plain in figure and in face, she was never common-looking,' says
Mr. Harness. He gives a pretty description of her as 'no ordinary
child, her sweet smiles, her animated conversation, her keen
enjoyment of life, and her gentle voice won the love and admiration
of her friends, whether young or old.' Mr. Harness has chiefly told
Miss Mitford's story in her own words by quotations from her
letters, and, as one reads, one can almost follow her moods as they
succeed each other, and these moods are her real history. The
assiduity of childhood, the bright enthusiasm and gaiety of her
early days, the growing anxiety of her later life, the maturer
judgments, the occasional despairing terrors which came to try her
bright nature, but along with it all, that innocent and enduring
hopefulness which never really deserted her. Her elastic spirit she
owed to her father, that incorrigible old Skimpole. 'I am generally
happy everywhere,' she writes in her youth--and then later on: 'It
is a great pleasure to me to love and to admire, this is a faculty
which has survived many frosts and storms.' It is true that she
adds a query somewhere else, 'Did you ever remark how superior old
gaiety is to new?' she asks.

Her handsome father, her plain and long-enduring mother, are both
unconsciously described in her correspondence. 'The Doctor's
manners were easy, natural, cordial, and apparently extremely
frank,' says Mr. Harness, 'but he nevertheless met the world on its
own terms, and was prepared to allow himself any insincerity which
seemed expedient. He was not only recklessly extravagant, but
addicted to high play. His wife's large fortune, his daughter's,
his own patrimony, all passed through his hands in an incredibly
short space of time, but his wife and daughter were never heard to
complain of his conduct, nor appeared to admire him less.'

The story of Miss Mitford's 2O,OOO pounds is unique among the
adventures of authoresses. Dr. Mitford, having spent all his wife's
fortune, and having brought his family from a comfortable home, with
flowers and a Turkey carpet, to a small lodging near Blackfriars
Bridge, determined to present his daughter with an expensive lottery
ticket on the occasion of her tenth birthday. She had a fancy for
No. 2224, of which the added numbers came to 10. This number
actually came out the first prize of 2O,OOO pounds, which money
started the family once more in comparative affluence. Dr. Mitford
immediately built a new square house, which he calls Bertram House,
on the site of a pretty old farmhouse which he causes to be pulled
down. He also orders a dessert-service painted with the Mitford
arms; Mrs. Mitford is supplied with a carriage, and she subscribes
to a circulating library.

A list still exists of the books taken out by her for her daughter's
use; some fifty-five volumes a month, chiefly trash: 'Vicenza,' 'A
Sailor's Friendship and Soldier's Love,' 'Clarentina,' 'Robert and
Adela,' 'The Count de Valmont,' 'The Three Spaniards,' 'De Clifford'
(in four volumes) and so on.

The next two or three years were brilliant enough; for the family
must have lived at the rate of three or four thousand a year. Their
hospitality was profuse, they had servants, carriages, they bought
pictures and furniture, they entertained. Cobbett was among their
intimate friends. The Doctor naturally enough invested in a good
many more lottery tickets, but without any further return.

The ladies seem to take it as a matter of course that he should
speculate and gamble at cards, and indeed do anything and everything
he fancied, but they beg him at least to keep to respectable clubs.
He is constantly away. His daughter tries to tempt him home with
the bloom of her hyacinths. 'How they long to see him again!' she
says, 'how greatly have they been disappointed, when, every day, the
journey to Reading has been fruitless. The driver of the Reading
coach is quite accustomed to being waylaid by their carriage.' Then
she tells him about the primroses, but neither hyacinths nor
primroses bring the Doctor away from his cards. Finally, the
rhododendrons and the azaleas are in bloom, but these also fail to
attract him.

Miss Mitford herself as she grows up is sent to London more than
once, to the St. Quintin's and elsewhere. She goes to the play and
to Westminster Hall, she sees her hero, Charles James Fox, and has
the happiness of watching him helped on to his horse. Mr. Romilly
delights her, but her greatest favourite of all is Mr. Whitbread.
'You know I am always an enthusiast,' she writes, 'but at present it
is impossible to describe the admiration I feel for this exalted
character.' She speaks of his voice 'which she could listen to with
transport even if he spoke in an unknown language!' she writes a
sonnet to him, 'an impromptu, on hearing Mr. Whitbread declare in
Westminster Hall that he fondly trusted his name would descend to

'The hope of Fame thy noble bosom fires,
Nor vain the hope thy ardent mind inspires;
In British breasts whilst Purity remains,
Whilst Liberty her blessed abode retains,
Still shall the muse of History proclaim
To future ages thy immortal name!'

There are many references to the celebrities of the time in her
letters home,--every one agrees as to the extreme folly of
Sheridan's entertainments, Mrs. Opie is spoken of as a rising
authoress, etc. etc. etc.

Miss Austen used to go to 23 Hans Place, and Miss Mitford used to
stay at No. 22, but not at the same time. Mrs. Mitford had known
Miss Austen as a child. She may perhaps be forgiven for some
prejudice and maternal jealousy, in her later impressions, but Mary
Mitford admired Jane Austen always with warmest enthusiasm. She
writes to her mother at length from London, describing everything,
all the people and books and experiences that she comes across,--the
elegant suppers at Brompton, the Grecian lamps, Mr. Barker's beauty,
Mr. Plummer's plainness, and the destruction of her purple gown.

Mrs. Mitford writes back in return describing Reading festivities,
'an agreeable dinner at Doctor Valpy's, where Mrs. Women and Miss
Peacock are present and Mr. J. Simpson, M.P.; the dinner very good,
two full courses and one remove, the soup giving place to one
quarter of lamb.' Mrs. Mitford sends a menu of every dinner she
goes to.

In 1806 Dr. Mitford takes his daughter, who was then about nineteen,
to the North to visit his relations; they are entertained by the
grandparents of the Trevelyans and the Swinburnes, the Ogles and the
Mitfords of the present day. They fish in Sir John Swinburne's
lake, they visit at Alnwick Castle. Miss Mitford kept her front
hair in papers till she reached Alnwick, nor was her dress
discomposed though she had travelled thirty miles. They sat down,
sixty-five to dinner, which was 'of course' (she somewhat
magnificently says) entirely served on plate. Poor Mary's pleasure
is very much dashed by the sudden disappearance of her father,--Dr.
Mitford was in the habit of doing anything he felt inclined to do at
once and on the spot, quite irrespectively of the convenience of
others,--and although a party had been arranged on purpose to meet
him in the North, and his daughter was counting on his escort to
return home, (people posted in those days, they did not take their
tickets direct from Newcastle to London), Dr. Mitford one morning
leaves word that he has gone off to attend the Reading election,
where his presence was not in the least required. For the first and
apparently for the only time in her life his daughter protests.
'Mr. Ogle is extremely offended; nothing but your immediate return
can ever excuse you to him! I IMPLORE you to return, I call upon
Mamma's sense of propriety to send you here directly. Little did I
suspect that my father, my beloved father, would desert me at this
distance from home! Every one is surprised.' Dr. Mitford was
finally persuaded to travel back to Northumberland to fetch his

The constant companionship of Dr. Mitford must have given a curious
colour to his good and upright daughter's views of life. Adoring
her father as she did, she must have soon accustomed herself to take
his fine speeches for fine actions, to accept his self-complacency
in the place of a conscience. She was a woman of warm impressions,
with a strong sense of right. But it was not within her daily
experience, poor soul, that people who did not make grand
professions were ready to do their duty all the same; nor did she
always depend upon the uprightness, the courage, the self-denial of
those who made no protestations. At that time loud talking was
still the fashion, and loud living was considered romantic. They
both exist among us, but they are less admired, and there is a
different language spoken now to that of Dr. Mitford and his
school.* This must account for some of Miss Mitford's judgments of
what she calls a 'cynical' generation, to which she did little

*People nowadays are more ready to laugh than to admire when they
hear the lions bray; for mewing and bleating, the taste, I fear, is
on the increase.


There is one penalty people pay for being authors, which is that
from cultivating vivid impressions and mental pictures they are apt
to take fancies too seriously and to mistake them for reality. In
story-telling this is well enough, and it interferes with nobody;
but in real history, and in one's own history most of all, this
faculty is apt to raise up bogies and nightmares along one's path;
and while one is fighting imaginary demons, the good things and true
are passed by unnoticed, the best realities of life are sometimes
overlooked. . . .

But after all, Mary Russell Mitford, who spent most of her time
gathering figs off thistles and making the best of her difficult
circumstances, suffered less than many people do from the influence
of imaginary things.

She was twenty-three years old when her first book of poems was
published; so we read in her letters, in which she entreats her
father not to curtail ANY of the verses addressed to him; there is
no reason, she says, except his EXTREME MODESTY why the verses
should be suppressed,--she speaks not only with the fondness of a
daughter but with the sensibility of a poet. Our young authoress is
modest, although in print; she compares herself to Crabbe (as Jane
Austen might have done), and feels 'what she supposes a farthing
candle would experience when the sun rises in all its glory.' Then
comes the Publisher's bill for 59 pounds; she is quite shocked at
the bill, which is really exorbitant! In her next letter Miss
Mitford reminds her father that the taxes are still unpaid, and a
correspondence follows with somebody asking for a choice of the
Doctor's pictures in payment for the taxes. The Doctor is in London
all the time, dining out and generally amusing himself. Everybody
is speculating whether Sir Francis Burdett will go to the Tower.*
'Oh, my darling, how I envy you at the fountain-head of intelligence
in these interesting times! How I envy Lady Burdett for the fine
opportunity she has to show the heroism of our sex!' writes the
daughter, who is only encountering angry tax-gatherers at home. . .
. Somehow or other the bills are paid for the time, and the family
arrangements go on as before.

*Here, in our little suburban garden at Wimbledon, are the remains
of an old hedgerow which used to grow in the kitchen garden of the
Grange where Sir Francis Burdett then lived. The tradition is that
he was walking in the lane in his own kitchen garden when he was
taken up and carried off to honourable captivity.--A.T.R.

Besides writing to the members of her own home, Miss Mitford started
another correspondent very early in life; this was Sir William
Elford, to whom she describes her outings and adventures, her visits
to Tavistock House, where her kind friends the Perrys receive her.
Mr. Perry was the editor of the Morning Chronicle; he and his
beautiful wife were the friends of all the most interesting people
of the day. Here again the present writer's own experiences can
interpret the printed page, for her own first sight of London people
and of London society came to her in a little house in Chesham
Place, where her father's old friends, Mrs. Frederick Elliot and
Miss Perry, the daughters of Miss Mitford's friends, lived with a
very notable and interesting set of people, making a social centre,
by that kindly unconscious art which cannot be defined; that quick
apprehension, that benevolent fastidiousness (I have to use rather
far-fetched words) which are so essential to good hosts and
hostesses. A different standard is looked for now, by the rising
generations knocking at the doors, behind which the dignified past
is lying as stark as King Duncan himself!

Among other entertainments Miss Mitford went to the fetes which
celebrated the battle of Vittoria; she had also the happiness of
getting a good sight of Mme. de Stael, who was a great friend of the
Perrys. 'She is almost as much followed in the gardens as the
Princess,' she says, pouring out her wonders, her pleasures, her
raptures. She begins to read Burns with youthful delight, dilates
upon his exhaustless imagination, his versatility, and then she
suggests a very just criticism. 'Does it not appear' she says,
'that versatility is the true and rare characteristic of that rare
thing called genius--versatility and playfulness;' then she goes on
to speak of two highly-reputed novels just come out and ascribed to
Lady Morley, 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Sense and Sensibility.'

She is still writing from Bertram House, but her pleasant gossip
continually alternates with more urgent and less agreeable letters
addressed to her father. Lawyers' clerks are again calling with
notices and warnings, tax-gatherers are troubling. Dr. Mitford has,
as usual, left no address, so that she can only write to the 'Star
Office,' and trust to chance. 'Mamma joins in tenderest love,' so
the letters invariably conclude.

Notwithstanding the adoration bestowed by the ladies of the family
and their endearing adjectives, Mr. Harness is very outspoken on the
subject of the handsome Doctor! He disliked his manners, his
morals, his self-sufficiency, his loud talk. 'The old brute never
informed his friends of anything; all they knew of him or his
affairs, or whatever false or true he intended them to believe, came
out carelessly in his loose, disjointed talk.'

In 1814 Miss Mitford is living on still with her parents at Bertram
House, but a change has come over their home; the servants are gone,
the gravel turned to moss, the turf into pasture, the shrubberies to
thickets, the house a sort of new 'ruin half inhabited, and a
Chancery suit is hanging over their heads.' Meantime some news
comes to cheer her from America. Two editions of her poems have
been printed and sold. 'Narrative Poems on the Female Character'
proved a real success. 'All who have hearts to feel and
understandings to discriminate, must wish you health and leisure to
complete your plan,' so write publishers in those golden days, with
complimentary copies of the work. . . .

Great things are happening all this time; battles are being fought
and won, Napoleon is on his way to St. Helena; London is in a frenzy
of rejoicings, entertainings, illuminations. To Mary Mitford the
appearance of 'Waverley' seems as great an event as the return of
the Bourbons; she is certain that 'Waverley' is written by Sir
Walter Scott, but 'Guy Mannering,' she thinks, is by another hand:
her mind is full of a genuine romantic devotion to books and belles
lettres, and she is also rejoicing, even more, in the spring-time of
1816. Dr. Mitford may be impecunious and their affairs may be
threadbare, but the lovely seasons come out ever in fresh beauty and
abundance. The coppices are carpeted with primroses, with pansies
and wild strawberry blossom,--the woods are spangled with the
delicate flowers of the woodsorrel and wood anemone, the meadows
enamelled with cowslips. . . . Certainly few human beings were ever
created more fit for this present world, and more capable of
admiring and enjoying its beauties, than Miss Mitford, who only
desired to be beautiful herself, she somewhere says, to be perfectly


Most people's lives are divided into first, second and third
volumes; and as we read Miss Mitford's history it forms no exception
to the rule. The early enthusiastic volume is there, with its hopes
and wild judgments, its quaint old-fashioned dress and phraseology;
then comes the second volume, full of actual work and serious
responsibility, with those childish parents to provide for, whose
lives, though so protracted, never seem to reach beyond their
nurseries. Miss Mitford's third volume is retrospective; her
growing infirmities are courageously endured, there is the certainty
of success well earned and well deserved; we realise her legitimate
hold upon the outer world of readers and writers, besides the
reputation which she won upon the stage by her tragedies.

The literary ladies of the early part of the century in some ways
had a very good time of it. A copy of verses, a small volume of
travels, a few tea-parties, a harp in one corner of the room, and a
hat and feathers worn rather on one side, seemed to be all that was
wanted to establish a claim to fashion and inspiration. They had
footstools to rest their satin shoes upon, they had admirers and
panegyrists to their heart's content, and above all they possessed
that peculiar complacency in which (with a few notable exceptions)
our age is singularly deficient. We are earnest, we are audacious,
we are original, but we are not complacent. THEY were dolls
perhaps, and lived in dolls' houses; WE are ghosts without houses at
all; we come and go wrapped in sheets of newspaper, holding
flickering lights in our hands, paraffin lamps, by the light of
which we are seeking our proper sphere. Poor vexed spirits! We do
not belong to the old world any more! The new world is not yet
ready for us. Even Mr. Gladstone will not let us into the House of
Commons; the Geographical Society rejects us, so does the Royal
Academy; and yet who could say that any of their standards rise too
high! Some one or two are happily safe, carried by the angels of
the Press to little altars and pinnacles all their own; but the
majority of hard-working, intelligent women, 'contented with little,
yet ready for more,' may they not in moments of depression be
allowed to picture to themselves what their chances might have been
had they only been born half a century earlier?

Miss Mitford, notwithstanding all her troubles (she has been known
to say she had rather be a washerwoman than a literary lady), had
opportunities such as few women can now obtain. One is lost in
admiration at the solidity of one's grandparents' taste, when one
attempts to read the tragedies they delighted in, and yet 'Rienzi'
sold four thousand copies and was acted forty-five times; and at one
time Miss Mitford had two tragedies rehearsed upon the boards
together; one at Covent Garden and one at Drury Lane, with Charles
Kemble and Macready disputing for her work. Has not one also read
similar descriptions of the triumphs of Hannah More, or of Johanna
Baillie; cheered by enthusiastic audiences, while men shed tears.*

*Mem. Hannah More, v.i. p.124.

'Julian' was the first of Miss Mitford's acted plays. It was
brought out at Covent Garden in 1823, when she was thirty-six years
old; Macready played the principal part. 'If the play do reach the
ninth night,' Miss Mitford writes to Macready, 'it will be a very
complete refutation of Mr. Kemble's axiom that no single performer
can fill the theatre; for except our pretty Alfonso (Miss Foote)
there is only Julian, one and only one. Let him imagine how deeply
we feel his exertions and his kindness.*. . .'

*In Macready's diary we find an entry which is not over gracious.
'"Julian" acted March the 15th. Had but moderate success. The C.
G. company was no longer equal to the support of plays containing
moral characters. The authoress in her dedication to me was profuse
in her acknowledgments and compliments, but the performance made
little impression, and was soon forgotten.'

'Julian' was stopped on the eighth night, to her great
disappointment, but she is already engaged on another--on several
more---tragedies; she wants the money badly; for the editor of her
magazine has absconded, owing her 50 pounds. Some trying and
bewildering quarrel then ensues between Charles Kemble and Macready,
which puts off her tragedies, and sadly affects poor Miss Mitford's
nerves and profits. She has one solace. Her father, partly
instigated, she says, by the effect which the terrible feeling of
responsibility and want of power has had upon her health and
spirits, at last resolves to try if he can HIMSELF obtain any
employment that may lighten the burthen of the home. It is a good
thing that Dr. Mitford has braced himself to this heroic
determination. 'The addition of two or even one hundred a year to
our little income, joined to what I am, in a manner, sure of gaining
by mere industry, would take a load from my heart of which I can
scarcely give you an idea. . . even "Julian" was written under a
pressure of anxiety which left me not a moment's rest. . . .' So
she fondly dwells upon the delightful prospects. Then comes the
next letter to Sir William Elford, and we read that her dear father,
'relying with a blessed sanguineness on my poor endeavours, has not,
I believe, even inquired for a situation, and I do not press the
matter, though I anxiously wish it; being willing to give one more
trial to the theatre.'

On one of the many occasions when Miss Mitford writes to her trustee
imploring him to sell out the small remaining fragment of her
fortune, she says, 'My dear father has, years ago, been improvident,
is still irritable and difficult to live with, but he is a person of
a thousand virtues. . . there are very few half so good in this
mixed world; it is my fault that this money is needed, entirely my
fault, and if it be withheld, my dear father will be overthrown,
mind and body, and I shall never know another happy hour.'

No wonder Mr. Harness, who was behind the scenes, remonstrated
against the filial infatuation which sacrificed health, sleep, peace
of mind, to gratify every passing whim of the Doctor's. At a time
when she was sitting up at night and slaving, hour after hour, to
earn the necessary means of living, Dr. Mitford must needs have a
cow, a stable, and dairy implements procured for his amusement, and
when he died he left 1,000 pounds of debts for the scrupulous woman
to pay off. She is determined to pay, if she sells her clothes to
do so. Meanwhile, the Doctor is still alive, and Miss Mitford is
straining every nerve to keep him so. She is engaged (in strict
confidence) on a grand historical subject, Charles and Cromwell, the
finest episode in English history, she says. Here, too, fresh
obstacles arise. This time it is the theatrical censor who
interferes. It would be dangerous for the country to touch upon
such topics; Mr. George Colman dwells upon this theme, although he
gives the lady full credit for no evil intentions; but for the
present all her work is again thrown away. While Miss Mitford is
struggling on as best she can against this confusion of worries and
difficulty (she eventually received 2OO pounds for 'Julian' from a
Surrey theatre), a new firm 'Whittaker' undertakes to republish the
'village sketches' which had been written for the absconding editor.
The book is to be published under the title of 'Our Village.'


'Are your characters and descriptions true?' somebody once asked our
authoress. 'Yes, yes, yes, as true, as true as is well possible,'
she answers. 'You, as a great landscape painter, know that in
painting a favourite scene you do a little embellish and can't help
it; you avail yourself of happy accidents of atmosphere; if anything
be ugly you strike it out, or if anything be wanting, you put it in.
But still the picture is a likeness.'

So wrote Miss Mitford, but with all due respect for her and for Sir
William Elford, the great landscape painter, I cannot help thinking
that what is admirable in her book, are not her actual descriptions
and pictures of intelligent villagers and greyhounds, but the more
imaginative things; the sense of space and nature and progress which
she knows how to convey; the sweet and emotional chord she strikes
with so true a touch. Take at hazard her description of the sunset.
How simple and yet how finely felt it is. Her genuine delight
reaches us and carries us along; it is not any embellishing of
effects, or exaggeration of facts, but the reality of a true and
very present feeling. . . 'The narrow line of clouds which a few
minutes ago lay like long vapouring streaks along the horizon, now
lighted with a golden splendour, that the eye can scarcely endure;
those still softer clouds which floated above, wreathing and curling
into a thousand fantastic forms as thin and changeful as summer
smoke, defined and deepened into grandeur, and hedged with
ineffable, insufferable light. Another minute and the brilliant orb
totally disappears and the sky above grows, every moment, more
varied and more beautiful, as the dazzling golden lines are mixed
with glowing red and gorgeous purple, dappled with small dark
specks, and mingled with such a blue as the egg of the hedge-
sparrow. . . . To look up at that glorious sky, and then to see
that magnificent picture reflected in the clear and lovely Loddon
water, is a pleasure never to be described, and never to be
forgotten. My heart swells, and my eyes fill as I write of it, and
think of the immeasurable majesty of nature and the unspeakable
goodness of God, who has spread an enjoyment so pure, so peaceful,
and so intense before the meanest and lowliest of His creatures.'

But it is needless now to go on praising 'Our Village,' or to
recount what a success was in store for the little book. Certain
books hold their own by individual right and might; they are part of
everybody's life as a matter of course. They are not always read,
but they tacitly take their place among us. The editions succeeded
editions here and in America; artists came down to illustrate the
scenes. Miss Mitford, who was so delighted with the drawings by Mr.
Baxter, should have lived to see the charming glimpses of rural life
we owe to Mr. Thomson. 'I don't mind 'em,' says Lizzy to the cows,
as they stand with spirited bovine grace behind the stable door.
'Don't mind them indeed!'

I think the author would assuredly have enjoyed the picture of the
baker, the wheelwright and the shoemaker, each following his special
Alderney along the road to the village, or of the farmer driving his
old wife in the gig. . . . One design, that of the lady in her
pattens, comes home to the writer of these notes, who has perhaps
the distinction of being the only authoress now alive who has ever
walked out in pattens. At the age of seven years she was provided
with a pair by a great-great-aunt, a kind old lady living at
Fareham, in Hampshire, where they were still in use. How
interesting the little circles looked stamped upon the muddy road,
and how nearly down upon one's nose one was at every other step!

But even with all her success, Miss Mitford was not out of her
troubles. She writes to Mr. Harness saying: 'You cannot imagine
how perplexed I am. There are points in my domestic situation too
long and too painful to write about; the terrible improvidence of
one dear parent, the failure of memory and decay of faculty in that
other who is still dearer, cast on me a weight of care and fear that
I can hardly bear up against.' Her difficulties were unending. The
new publisher now stopped payment, so that even 'Our Village'
brought in no return for the moment; Charles Kemble was unable to
make any offer for 'Foscari.' She went up to town in the greatest
hurry to try and collect some of the money owing to her from her
various publishers, but, as Mr. Harness says, received little from
her debtors beyond invitations and compliments. She meditates a
novel, she plans an opera, 'Cupid and Psyche.'

At last, better times began to dawn, and she receives 150 pounds
down for a new novel and ten guineas from Blackwood as a retaining
fee. Then comes a letter from Charles Kemble giving her new hope,
for her tragedy, which was soon afterwards produced at Covent

The tragedies are in tragic English, of course that language of the
boards, but not without a simplicity and music of their own. In the
introduction to them, in some volumes published by Hurst and Blacket
in 1854, Miss Mitford describes 'the scene of indescribable chaos
preceding the performance, the vague sense of obscurity and
confusion; tragedians, hatted and coated, skipping about, chatting
and joking; the only very grave person being Liston himself.
Ballet-girls walking through their quadrilles to the sound of a
solitary fiddle, striking up as if of its own accord, from amid the
tall stools and music-desks of the orchestra, and piercing, one
hardly knew how, through the din that was going on incessantly. Oh,
that din! Voices from every part; above, below, around, and in
every key. Heavy weights rolling here and falling there. Bells
ringing, one could not tell why, and the ubiquitous call-boy

She describes her astonishment when the play succeeds. 'Not that I
had nerve enough to attend the first representation of my tragedies.
I sat still and trembling in some quiet apartment near, and thither
some friend flew to set my heart at ease. Generally the messenger
of good tidings was poor Haydon, whose quick and ardent spirit lent
him wings on such an occasion.'

We have the letter to her mother about 'Foscari,' from which I have
quoted; and on the occasion of the production of 'Rienzi' at Drury
Lane (two years later in October 1828), the letter to Sir William
Elford when the poor old mother was no longer here to rejoice in her
daughter's success.

Miss Mitford gratefully records the sympathy of her friends, the
warm-hearted muses of the day. Mrs. Trollope, Miss Landon, Miss
Edgeworth, Miss Porden, Mrs. Hofland, Mrs. Opie, who all appear with
their congratulations.

Miss Mitford says that Haydon, above all, sympathised with her love
for a large canvas. The Classics, Spain, Italy, Mediaeval Rome,
these are her favourite scenes and periods. Dukes and tribunes were
her heroes; daggers, dungeons, and executioners her means of

She moralises very sensibly upon Dramatic success. 'It is not,' she
says, 'so delicious, so glorious, so complete a gratification as, in
our secret longings, we all expect. It does not fill the heart,--it
is an intoxication followed by a dismal reaction.' She tells a
friend that never in all her life was she so depressed and out of
spirits as after 'Rienzi,' her first really successful venture. But
there is also a passing allusion to her father's state of mind, to
his mingled irritation and sulkiness, which partly explains things.
Could it be that the Doctor added petty jealousy and envy to his
other inconvenient qualities? His intolerance for any author or
actor, in short, for any one not belonging to a county family, his
violent annoyance at any acquaintances such as those which she now
necessarily made, would naturally account for some want of spirits
on the daughter's part; overwrought, over-taxed, for ever on the
strain, her work was exhausting indeed. The small pension she
afterwards obtained from the Civil List must have been an
unspeakable boon to the poor harassed woman.

Tragedy seems to have resulted in a substantial pony and a basket
carriage for Miss Mitford, and in various invitations (from the
Talfourds, among the rest) during which she is lionised right and
left. It must have been on this occasion that Serjeant Talfourd
complained so bitterly of a review of 'Ion' which appeared about
that time. His guest, to soothe him, unwarily said, 'she should not
have minded such a review of HER Tragedy.'

'YOUR "Rienzi," indeed! I should think not,' says the serjeant.
'"Ion" is very different.' The Talfourd household, as it is
described by Mr. Lestrange, is a droll mixture of poetry and prose,
of hospitality, of untidiness, of petulance, of most genuine
kindness and most genuine human nature.

There are also many mentions of Miss Mitford in the 'Life of
Macready' by Sir F. Pollock. The great tragedian seems not to have
liked her with any cordiality; but he gives a pleasant account of a
certain supper-party in honour of 'Ion' at which she is present, and
during which she asks Macready if he will not now bring out her
tragedy. The tragedian does not answer, but Wordsworth, sitting by,
says, 'Ay, keep him to it.'


Besides the 'Life of Miss Mitford' by Messrs. Harness and Lestrange,
there is also a book of the 'Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford,'
consisting of the letters she received rather than of those which
she wrote. It certainly occurs to one, as one looks through the
printed correspondence of celebrated people, how different are
written from printed letters. Your friend's voice sounds, your
friend's eyes look out, of the written page, even its blots and
erasures remind you of your human being. But the magnetism is gone
out of these printer's lines with their even margins; in which
everybody's handwriting is exactly alike; in which everybody uses
the same type, the same expressions; in which the eye roams from
page to page untouched, unconvinced. I can imagine the pleasure
each one of these letters may have given to Miss Mitford to receive
in turn. They come from well-known ladies, accustomed to be
considered. Mrs. Trollope, Mrs. Hofland, Mrs. Howitt, Mrs. S. C.
Hall, Miss Strickland, Mrs. Opie; there, too, are Miss Barrett and
Mrs. Jamieson and Miss Sedgwick who writes from America; they are
all interesting people, but it must be confessed that the
correspondence is not very enlivening. Miss Barrett's is an
exception, that is almost as good as handwriting to read. But there
is no doubt that compliments to OTHER authoresses are much less
amusing, than those one writes or receives oneself; apologies also
for not writing sooner, CAN pall upon one in print, however soothing
they may be to the justly offended recipient, or to the
conscience-stricken correspondent.

'I must have seemed a thankless wretch, my dear Miss Mitford,' etc.
etc. 'You, my dear friend, know too well what it is to have to
finish a book, to blame my not attempting,' etc. etc. 'This is the
thirty-ninth letter I have written since yesterday morning,' says
Harriet Martineau. 'Oh, I can scarcely hold the pen! I will not
allow my shame for not having written, to prevent me from writing
now.' All these people seem to have been just as busy as people are
now, as amusing, as tiresome. They had the additional difficulty of
having to procure franks, and of having to cover four pages instead
of a post-card. OUR letters may be dull, but at all events they are
not nearly so long. We come sooner to the point and avoid elegant
circumlocutions. But one is struck, among other things, by the
keener literary zest of those days, and by the immense numbers of
MSS. and tragedies in circulation, all of which their authors
confidingly send from one to another. There are also whole flights
of travelling poems flapping their wings and uttering their cries as
they go.

An enthusiastic American critic who comes over to England emphasises
the situation. Mr. Willis's 'superlative admiration' seems to give
point to everything, and to all the enthusiasm. Miss Austen's
Collins himself could not have been more appreciative, not even if
Miss de Burgh had tried her hand at a MS. . . . Could he--Mr.
Willis--choose, he would have tragedy once a year from Miss
Mitford's pen. 'WHAT an intoxicating life it is,' he cries; 'I met
Jane Porter and Miss Aikin and Tom Moore and a troop more beaux
esprits at dinner yesterday! I never shall be content elsewhere.'

Miss Mitford's own letters speak in a much more natural voice.

'I never could understand what people could find to like in my
letters,' Miss Mitford writes, 'unless it be that they have a ROOT
to them.' The root was in her own kind heart. Miss Mitford may
have been wanting a little in discrimination, but she was never
wanting in sympathy. She seems to have loved people for kindness's
sake indiscriminately as if they were creations of her own brain:
but to friendliness or to trouble of any sort she responds with
fullest measure. Who shall complain if some rosy veil coloured the
aspects of life for her?

'Among the many blessings I enjoy,--my dear father, my admirable
mother, my tried and excellent friends,--there is nothing for which
I ought to thank God so earnestly as for the constitutional buoyancy
of spirits, the aptness to hope, the will to be happy WHICH I
INHERIT FROM MY FATHER,' she writes. Was ever filial piety so
irritating as hers? It is difficult to bear, with any patience, her
praises of Dr. Mitford. His illusions were no less a part of his
nature than his daughter's, the one a self-centred absolutely
selfish existence, the other generous, humble, beautiful. She is
hardly ever really angry except when some reports get about
concerning her marriage. There was an announcement that she was
engaged to one of her own clan, and the news spread among her
friends. The romantic Mrs. Hofland had conjured up the suggestion,
to Miss Mitford's extreme annoyance. It is said Mrs. Hofland also
married off Miss Edgeworth in the same manner.

Mary Mitford found her true romance in friendship, not in love. One
day Mr. Kenyon came to see her while she was staying in London, and
offered to show her the Zoological Gardens, and on the way he
proposed calling in Gloucester Place to take up a young lady, a
connection of his own, Miss Barrett by name. It was thus that Miss
Mitford first made the acquaintance of Mrs. Browning, whose
friendship was one of the happiest events of her whole life. A
happy romance indeed, with that added reality which must have given
it endurance. And indeed to make a new friend is like learning a
new language. I myself have a friend who says that we have each one
of us a chosen audience of our own to whom we turn instinctively,
and before whom we rehearse that which is in our minds; whose
opinion influences us, whose approval is our secret aim. All this
Mrs. Browning seems to have been to Miss Mitford.

'I sit and think of you and of the poems that you will write, and of
that strange rainbow crown called fame, until the vision is before
me. . . . My pride and my hopes seem altogether merged in you. At
my time of life and with so few to love, and with a tendency to body
forth images of gladness, you cannot think what joy it is to
anticipate. . . .' So wrote the elder woman to the younger with
romantic devotion. What Miss Mitford once said of herself was true,
hers was the instinct of the bee sucking honey from the hedge
flower. Whatever sweetness and happiness there was to find she
turned to with unerring directness.

It is to Miss Barrett that she sometimes complains. 'It will help
you to understand how impossible it is for me to earn money as I
ought to do, when I tell you that this very day I received your dear
letter and sixteen others; then my father brought into my room the
newspaper to hear the ten or twelve columns of news from India; then
I dined and breakfasted in one; then I got up, and by that time
there were three parties of people in the garden; eight others
arrived soon after. . . . I was forced to leave, being engaged to
call on Lady Madeline Palmer. She took me some six miles on foot in
Mr. Palmer's beautiful plantations, in search of that exquisite
wild-flower the bog-bean, do you know it? most beautiful of flowers,
either wild--or, as K. puts it,--"tame." After long search we found
the plant not yet in bloom.'

Dr. Mitford weeps over his daughters exhaustion, telling everybody
that she is killing herself by her walks and drives. He would like
her never to go beyond the garden and beyond reach of the columns of
his newspaper. She declares that it is only by getting out and
afield that she can bear the strain and the constant alternation of
enforced work and anxiety. Nature was, indeed, a second nature to
her. Charles Kingsley himself could scarcely write better of the
East wind. . . .

'We have had nine weeks of drought and east wind, scarcely a flower
to be seen, no verdure in the meadows, no leaves in the hedgerows;
if a poor violet or primrose did make its appearance it was
scentless. I have not once heard my aversion the cuckoo. . . and
in this place, so evidently the rendezvous of swallows, that it
takes its name from them, not a swallow has yet appeared. The only
time that I have heard the nightingale, I drove, the one mild day we
have had, to a wood where I used to find the woodsorrel in beds;
only two blossoms of that could be found, but a whole chorus of
nightingales saluted me the moment I drove into the wood.'

There is something of Madame de Sevigne in her vivid realisation of
natural things.

She nursed her father through a long and trying illness, and when he
died found herself alone in the world with impaired health and very
little besides her pension from the Civil List to live upon. Dr.
Mitford left 1000 pounds worth of debts, which this honourable woman
then and there set to work to try and pay. So much courage and
devotion touched the hearts of her many friends and readers, and
this sum was actually subscribed by them. Queens, archbishops,
dukes, and marquises subscribe to the testimonial, so do the
literary ladies, Mesdames Bailey, Edgeworth, Trollope; Mrs. Opie is
determined to collect twenty pounds at least, although she justly
says she wishes it were for anything but to pay the Doctor's debts.

In 1844 it is delightful to read of a little ease at last in this
harassed life; of a school-feast with buns and flags organised by
the kind lady, the children riding in waggons decked with laurel,
Miss Mitford leading the way, followed by eight or ten neighbouring
carriages, and the whole party waiting in Swallowfield Lane to see
the Queen and Prince Albert returning from their visit to the Duke
of Wellington. 'Our Duke went to no great expense,' says Miss
Mitford. (Dr. Mitford would have certainly disapproved had he been
still alive.) One strip of carpet the Duke did buy, the rest of the
furniture he hired in Reading for the week. The ringers, after
being hard at work for four hours, sent a can to the house to ask
for some beer, and the can was sent back empty.

It was towards the end of her life that Miss Mitford left Three Mile
Cross and came to Swallowfield to stay altogether. 'The poor
cottage was tumbling around us, and if we had stayed much longer we
should have been buried in the ruins,' she says; 'there I had toiled
and striven and tasted as bitterly of bitter anxiety, of fear and
hope, as often falls to the lot of women.' Then comes a charming
description of the three miles of straight and dusty road. 'I
walked from one cottage to the other on an autumn evening when the
vagrant birds, whose habit of assembling there for their annual
departure, gives, I suppose, its name of Swallowfield to the
village, were circling over my head, and I repeated to myself the
pathetic lines of Hayley as he saw those same birds gathering upon
his roof during his last illness:--

'"Ye gentle birds, that perch aloof,
And smooth your pinions on my roof. . .

'"Prepare for your departure hence
Ere winter's angry threats commence;
Like you my soul would smooth her plume
For longer flights beyond the tomb.

'"May God by whom is seen and heard
Departing men and wandering bird,
In mercy mark us for His own
And guide us to the land unknown!"'

Thoughts soothing and tender came with those touching lines, and
gayer images followed. . . .

It is from Swallowfield that she writes: 'I have fell this blessing
of being able to respond to new friendships very strongly lately,
for I have lost many old and valued connections during this trying
spring. I thank God far more earnestly for such blessings than for
my daily bread, for friendship is the bread of the heart.'

It was late in life to make such warm new ties as those which
followed her removal from Three Mile Cross; but some of the most
cordial friendships of her life date from this time. Mr. James Payn
and Mr. Fields she loved with some real motherly feeling, and Lady
Russell who lived at the Hall became her tender and devoted friend.


We went down to Reading the other day, as so many of Miss Mitford's
friends have done before, to look at 'our village' with our own
eyes, and at the cottage in which she lived for so long. A phaeton
with a fast-stepping horse met us at the station and whirled us
through the busy town and along the straight dusty road beyond it.
As we drove along in the soft clouded sunshine I looked over the
hedges on either side, and I could see fields and hedgerows and red
roofs clustering here and there, while the low background of blue
hills spread towards the horizon. It was an unpretentious homely
prospect intercepted each minute by the detestable advertisement
hoardings recommending this or that rival pill. 'Tongues in trees'
indeed, in a very different sense from the exiled duke's experience!
Then we come within sight of the running brook, uncontaminated as
yet; the river flowing cool and swift, without quack medicines
stamped upon its waters: we reach Whitley presently, with its
pretty gabled hostel (Mrs. Mitford used to drive to Whitley and back
for her airing), the dust rises on the fresh keen wind, the scent of
the ripe corn is in the air, the cows stoop under the elm trees,
looking exactly as they do in Mr. Thomson's pretty pictures, dappled
and brown, with delicate legs and horns. We pass very few people, a
baby lugged along in its cart, and accompanied by its brothers and
sisters; a fox-terrier comes barking at our wheels; at last the
phaeton stops abruptly between two or three roadside houses, and the
coachman, pointing with his whip, says, 'That is "The Mitford,"
ma'am.--That's where Miss Mitford used to live!'

Was that all? I saw two or three commonplace houses skirting the
dusty road, I saw a comfortable public-house with an elm tree, and
beside it another grey unpretentious little house, with a slate roof
and square walls, and an inscription, 'The Mitford,' painted over
the doorway. . . .

I had been expecting I knew not what; a spire, a pump, a green, a
winding street: my preconceived village in the air had immediately
to be swept into space, and in its stead, behold the inn with its
sign-post, and these half-dozen brick tenements, more or less cut to
one square pattern! So this was all! this was 'our village' of
which the author had written so charmingly! These were the sights
the kind eyes had dwelt upon, seeing in them all, the soul of hidden
things, rather than dull bricks and slates. Except for one memory,
Three Mile Cross would seem to be one of the dullest and most
uninteresting of country places. . . .

But we have Miss Mitford's own description. 'The Cross is not a
borough, thank Heaven, either rotten or independent. The
inhabitants are quiet, peaceable
people who would not think of visiting us, even if we had a knocker
to knock at. Our residence is a cottage' (she is writing to her
correspondent, Sir William Elford), 'no, not a cottage, it does not
deserve the name--a messuage or tenement such as a little farmer who
had made 1400 pounds might retire to when he left off business to
live on his means. It consists of a series of closets, the largest
of which may be about eight feet square, which they call parlours
and kitchens and pantries, some of them minus a corner, which has
been unnaturally filched for a chimney, others deficient in half a
side, which has been truncated by a shelving roof. Behind is a
garden about the size of a good drawing-room, with an arbour, which
is a complete sentry-box of privet. On one side a public-house, on
the other a village shop, and right opposite a cobbler's stall.
Notwithstanding all this "the cabin," as Boabdil says, "is
convenient." It is within reach of my dear old walks, the banks
where I find my violets, the meadows full of cowslips, and the woods
where the woodsorrel blows. . . . Papa has already had the
satisfaction of setting the neighbourhood to rights and committing a
disorderly person who was the pest of "The Cross" to Bridewell. . .
. Mamma has furbished up an old dairy; I have lost my only key and
stuffed the garden with flowers.' . . . . So writes the contented
young woman.

How much more delightful is all this than any commonplace stagey
effect of lattice and gable; and with what pleasant unconscious art
the writer of this letter describes what is NOT there and brings in
her banks of violets to perfume the dull rooms. The postscript to
this letter is Miss Mitford all over. 'Pray excuse my blots and
interlineations. They have been caused by my attention being
distracted by a nightingale in full song who is pouring a world of
music through my window.'

'Do you not like to meet with good company in your friends' hearts?'
Miss Mitford says somewhere,--to no one better than to herself does
this apply. Her heart was full of gracious things, and the best of
company was ever hers, 'La fleur de la hotte,' as Madame de Sevigne

We walked into the small square hall where Dr. Mitford's bed was
established after his illness, whilst visitors and all the rest of
the household came and went through the kitchen door. In the
parlour, once kept for his private use, now sat a party of homely
friends from Reading, resting and drinking tea: we too were served
with smoking cups, and poured our libation to her who once presided
in the quiet place; and then the landlady took us round and about,
showed us the kitchen with its comfortable corners and low
window-frames--'I suppose this is scarcely changed at all?' said one
of us.

'Oh yes, ma'am,' says the housekeeper--'WE uses a Kitchener, Miss
Mitford always kept an open range.'

The garden, with its sentry-box of privet, exists no longer; an iron
mission-room stands in its place, with the harmonium, the rows of
straw chairs, the table and the candlesticks de circonstance. Miss
Mitford's picture hangs on the wall, a hand-coloured copy of one of
her portraits. The kindly homely features smile from the oils, in
good humour and attentive intelligence. The sentiment of to-day is
assuredly to be found in the spirit of things rather than in their
outward signs. . . . Any one of us can feel the romance of a
wayside shrine put up to the memory of some mediaeval well-dressed
saint with a nimbus at the back of her head, and a trailing cloak
and veil. . . . Here, after all, is the same sentiment, only
translated into nineteenth-century language; uses corrogated iron
sheds, and cups of tea, and oakum matting. 'Mr. Palmer, he bought
the place,' says the landlady, 'he made it into a Temperance Hotel,
and built the Temperance Hall in the garden.' . . . .

No romantic marble shrine, but a square meeting-house of good
intent, a tribute not less sincere because it is square, than if it
were drawn into Gothic arch and curve. It speaks, not of a holy and
mythical saint, but of a good and warm-hearted woman; of a life-long
penance borne with charity and cheerfulness; of sweet fancies and
blessings which have given innocent pleasure to many generations!


There is a note, written in a close and pretty writing, something
between Sir Walter Scott's and Mrs. Browning's, which the present
writer has possessed for years, fastened in a book among other early

Thank you, dearest Miss Priscilla, for your great kindness. I
return the ninth volume of [illegible], with the four succeeding
ones, all that I have; probably all that are yet published. You
shall have the rest when I get them. Tell dear Mr. George (I must
not call him Vert-Vert) that I have recollected the name of the
author of the clever novel 'Le Rouge et le Noir' (that is the right
title of the book, which has nothing to do with the name); the
author's name is Stendhal, or so he calls himself. I think that he
was either a musician or a musical critic, and that he is dead. . .
. My visitor has not yet arrived (6 o'clock, p.m.), frightened no
doubt by the abruptness of the two notes which I wrote in reply to
hers yesterday morning; and indeed nobody could fancy the hurry in
which one is forced to write by this walking post. . . .

Tell my visitors of yesterday with my kind love that they did me all
the good in the world, as indeed everybody of your house does.--
Ever, dear Miss Priscilla, very affectionately yours,

In the present writer's own early days, when the now owner of
Swallowfield was a very young, younger son, she used to hear him and
his sister, Mrs. Brackenbury (the Miss Priscilla of the note),
speaking with affectionate remembrance of the old friend lately
gone, who had dwelt at their very gates; through which friendly
gates one is glad, indeed, to realise what delightful companionship
and loving help came to cheer the end of that long and toilsome
life; and when Messrs. Macmillan suggested this preface the writer
looked for her old autograph-book, and at its suggestion wrote
(wondering whether any links existed still) to ask for information
concerning Miss Mitford, and so it happened that she found herself
also kindly entertained at Swallowfield, and invited to visit the
scenes of which the author of 'Our Village' had written with so much

I think I should like to reverse the old proverb about letting those
who run read, my own particular fancy being for reading first and
running afterwards. There are few greater pleasures than to meet
with an Individuality, to listen to it speaking from a printed page,
recounting, suggesting, growing upon you every hour, gaining in life
and presence, and then, while still under its influence, to find
oneself suddenly transported into the very scene of that life, to
stand among its familiar impressions and experiences, realising
another distinct existence by some odd metempsychosis, and what may-
-or rather, what MUST have been. It is existing a book rather than
reading it when this happens to one.

The house in Swallowfield Park is an old English country home, a
fastness still piled up against time; whose stately walls and halls
within, and beautiful century-old trees in the park without, record
great times and striking figures. The manor was a part of the dowry
of Henry the VIII.'s luckless queens. The modern house was built by
Clarendon, and the old church among the elms dates from 1200, with
carved signs and symbols and brasses of knights and burgesses, and
names of strange sound and bygone fashion.

Lady Russell, who had sent the phaeton with the fast-stepping horse
to meet us, was walking in the park as we drove up, and instead of
taking us back to the house, she first led the way across the grass
and by the stream to the old church, standing in its trim sweet
garden, where Death itself seems smiling and fearless; where kind
Mary Mitford's warm heart rests quiet, and 'her busy hand,' as she
says herself, 'is lying in peace there, where the sun glances
through the great elm trees in the beautiful churchyard of

The last baronet, Sir Charles, who fought in the Crimea, and who
succeeded his father, Sir Henry, moved the dividing rail so that his
old friend should be well within the shadow of these elm trees.
Lady Russell showed us the tranquil green place, and told us its
story, and how the old church had once been doomed to destruction
when Kingsley came over by chance, and pleaded that it should be
spared; and how, when rubbish and outward signs of decay had been
cleared away, the restorers were rewarded for their piety, by coming
upon noble beams of oak, untouched by time, upon some fine old
buried monuments and brasses and inscriptions, among which the
people still say their prayers in the shrine where their fathers
knelt, and of which the tradition is not yet swept away. The
present Lady of the Manor, who loves old traditions, has done her
part to preserve the records for her children.

So Miss Mitford walked from Three Mile Cross to Swallowfield to end
her days, with these kind friends to cheer and to comfort her. Sir
Henry Russell was alive when she first established herself, but he
was already suffering from some sudden seizure, which she, with her
usual impetuosity, describes in her letters as a chronic state of
things. After his death, his widow, the Lady Russell of those days,
was her kindest friend and comforter.

The little Swallowfield cottage at the meeting of the three roads,
to which Mary Mitford came when she left Three Mile Cross, has
thrown out a room or two, as cottages do, but otherwise I think it
can be little changed. It was here Miss Mitford was visited by so
many interesting people, here she used to sit writing at her big
table under the 'tassels of her acacia tree.' When the present Lady
of the Manor brought us to the gate, the acacia flowers were over,
but a balmy breath of summer was everywhere; a beautiful rose was
hanging upon the wall beneath the window (it must have taken many
years to grow to such a height), and beyond the palings of the
garden spread the fields, ripening in the late July, and turning to
gold. The farmer and his son were at work with their scythes; the
birds were still flying, the sweet scents were in the air.

From a lady who had known her, 'my own Miss Anne' of the letters, we
heard something more that day of the author of 'Our Village'; of her
charming intellect, her gift of talk, her impulsiveness, her
essential sociability, and rapid grace of mind. She had the faults
of her qualities; she jumped too easily to conclusions; she was too
much under the influence of those with whom she lived. She was born
to be a victim,--even after her old tyrant father's death, she was
more or less over-ridden by her servants. Neighbours looked
somewhat doubtfully on K. and Ben, but they were good to her, on the
whole, and tended her carefully. Miss Russell said that when she
and her brother took refuge in the cottage, one morning from a
storm, while they dried themselves by the fire, they saw the careful
meal carried up to the old lady, the kidneys, the custard, for her
dejeuner a la fourchette.

When Miss Mitford died, she left everything she had to her beloved
K. and to Ben, except that she said she wished that one book from
her well-stocked library should be given to each of her friends.
The old Doctor, with all his faults, had loved books, and bought
handsome and valuable first editions of good authors. K. and Ben
also seem to have loved books and first editions. To the Russells,
who had nursed Miss Mitford, comforted her, by whose gates she
dwelt, in whose arms she died, Ben brought, as a token of
remembrance, an old shilling volume of one of G. P. R. James's
novels, which was all he could bear to part with. A prettier
incident was told me by Miss Russell, who once went to visit Miss
Mitford's grave. She found a young man standing there whom she did
not know. 'Don't you know me?' said he; 'I am Henry, ma'am. I have
just come back from Australia.' He was one of the children of the
couple who had lived in the cottage, and his first visit on his
return from abroad had been to the tomb of his old protectress.

I also heard a friend who knew Miss Mitford in her latest days,
describe going to see her within a very few months of her death; she
was still bright and responding as ever, though very ill. The young
visitor had herself been laid up and absent from the invalid's
bedside for some time. They talked over many things,--an authoress
among the rest, concerning whose power of writing a book Miss
Mitford seems to have been very doubtful. After her visitor was
gone, the sick woman wrote one of her delicate pretty little notes
and despatched it with its tiny seal (there it is still unbroken,
with its M. R. M. just as she stamped it), and this is the little

Thank you, dearest Miss . . . for once again showing me your fair
face by the side of the dear, dear friend [Lady Russell] for whose
goodness I have neither thanks nor words. To the end of my life I
shall go on sinning and repenting. Heartily sorry have I been ever
since you went away to have spoken so unkindly to Mrs . . . .
Heaven forgive me for it, and send her a happier conclusion to her
life than the beginning might warrant. If you have an idle lover,
my dear, present over to him my sermon, for those were words of

God bless you all! Ever, most faithfully and affectionately yours,
Sunday Evening.


When one turns from Miss Mitford's works to the notices in the
biographical dictionary (in which Miss Mitford and Mithridates
occupy the same page), one finds how firmly her reputation is
established. 'Dame auteur,' says my faithful mentor, the Biographic
Generale, 'consideree comme le peintre le plus fidele de la vie
rurale en Angleterre.' 'Author of a remarkable tragedy, "Julian,"
in which Macready played a principal part, followed by "Foscari,"
"Rienzi," and others,' says the English Biographical Dictionary.

'I am charmed with my new cottage,' she writes soon after her last
installation; 'the neighbours are most kind.' Kingsley was one of
the first to call upon her. 'He took me quite by surprise in his
extraordinary fascination,' says the old lady.

Mr. Fields, the American publisher, also went to see Miss Mitford at
Swallowfield, and immediately became a very great ally of hers. It
was to him that she gave her own portrait, by Lucas. Mr. Fields has
left an interesting account of her in his 'Yesterdays with Authors'-
-'Her dogs and her geraniums,' he says, 'were her great glories!
She used to write me long letters about Fanchon, a dog whose
personal acquaintance I had made some time before, while on a visit
to her cottage. Every virtue under heaven she attributed to that
canine individual; and I was obliged to allow in my return letters
that since our planet began to spin, nothing comparable to Fanchon
had ever run on four legs. I had also known Flush, the ancestor of
Fanchon, intimately, and had been accustomed to hear wonderful
things of that dog, but Fanchon had graces and genius unique. Miss
Mitford would have joined with Hamerton, when he says, 'I humbly
thank Divine Providence for having invented dogs, and I regard that
man with wondering pity who can lead a dogless life.'

Another of Miss Mitford's great friends was John Ruskin,* and one
can well imagine how much they must have had in common. Of Miss
Mitford's writings Ruskin says, 'They have the playfulness and
purity of the "Vicar of Wakefield" without the naughtiness of its
occasional wit, or the dust of the world's great road on the other
side of the hedge. . . . '

*It is Mr. Harness who says, writing of Ruskin and Miss Mitford,
'His kindness cheered her closing days. He sent her every book that
would interest, every delicacy that would strengthen her.'

Neither the dust nor the ethics of the world of men quite belonged
to Miss Mitford's genius. It is always a sort of relief to turn
from her criticism of people, her praise of Louis Napoleon, her
facts about Mr. Dickens, whom she describes as a dull companion, or
about my father, whom she looked upon as an utter heartless
worldling, to the natural spontaneous sweet flow of nature in which
she lived and moved instinctively.

Mr. James Payn gives, perhaps, the most charming of all the
descriptions of the author of 'Our Village.' He has many letters
from her to quote from. 'The paper is all odds and ends,' he says,
'and not a scrap of it but is covered and crossed. The very flaps
of the envelopes and the outsides of them have their message.'

Mr. Payn went to see her at Swallowfield, and describes the small
apartment lined with books from floor to ceiling and fragrant with
flowers. 'Its tenant rose from her arm-chair with difficulty, but
with a sunny smile and a charming manner bade me welcome. My father
had been an old friend of hers, and she spoke of my home and
belongings as only a woman can speak of such things, then we plunged
into medea res, into men and books. She seemed to me to have known
everybody worth knowing from the Duke of Wellington to the last new
verse-maker. And she talked like an angel, but her views upon
poetry as a calling in life, shocked me not a little. She said she
preferred a mariage de convenance to a love match, because it
generally turned out better. "This surprises you," she said,
smiling, "but then I suppose I am the least romantic person that
ever wrote plays." She was much more proud of her plays, even then
well-nigh forgotten, than of the works by which she was well known,
and which at that time brought people from the ends of the earth to
see her. . . .

'Nothing ever destroyed her faith in those she loved. If I had not
known all about him from my own folk I should have thought her
father had been a patriot and a martyr. She spoke of him as if
there had never been such a father--which in a sense was true.'

Mr. Payn quotes Miss Mitford's charming description of K., 'for whom
she had the highest admiration.' 'K. is a great curiosity, by far
the cleverest woman in these parts, not in a literary way [this was
not to disappoint me], but in everything that is useful. She could
make a Court dress for a duchess or cook a dinner for a Lord Mayor,
but her principal talent is shown in managing everybody whom she
comes near. Especially her husband and myself; she keeps the money
of both and never allows either of us to spend sixpence without her
knowledge. . . . You should see the manner in which she makes Ben
reckon with her, and her contempt for all women who do not manage
their husbands.'

Another delightful quotation is from one of Charles Kingsley's
letters to Mr. Payn. It brings the past before us from another
point of view.

'I can never forget the little figure rolled up in two chairs in the
little Swallowfield room, packed round with books up to the ceiling-
-the little figure with clothes on of no recognised or recognisable
pattern; and somewhere, out of the upper end of the heap, gleaming
under a great deep globular brow, two such eyes as I never perhaps
saw in any other Englishwoman--though I believe she must have had
French blood in her veins to breed such eyes and such a tongue, the
beautiful speech which came out of that ugly (it was that) face, and
the glitter and depth too of the eyes, like live coals--perfectly
honest the while. . . .' One would like to go on quoting and
copying, but here my preface must cease, for it is but a preface
after all, one of those many prefaces written out of the past and
when everything is over.


Of all situations for a constant residence, that which appears to me
most delightful is a little village far in the country; a small
neighbourhood, not of fine mansions finely peopled, but of cottages
and cottage-like houses, 'messuages or tenements,' as a friend of
mine calls such ignoble and nondescript dwellings, with inhabitants
whose faces are as familiar to us as the flowers in our garden; a
little world of our own, close-packed and insulated like ants in an
ant-hill, or bees in a hive, or sheep in a fold, or nuns in a
convent, or sailors in a ship; where we know every one, are known to
every one, interested in every one, and authorised to hope that
every one feels an interest in us. How pleasant it is to slide into
these true-hearted feelings from the kindly and unconscious
influence of habit, and to learn to know and to love the people
about us, with all their peculiarities, just as we learn to know and
to love the nooks and turns of the shady lanes and sunny commons
that we pass every day. Even in books I like a confined locality,
and so do the critics when they talk of the unities. Nothing is so
tiresome as to be whirled half over Europe at the chariot-wheels of
a hero, to go to sleep at Vienna, and awaken at Madrid; it produces
a real fatigue, a weariness of spirit. On the other hand, nothing
is so delightful as to sit down in a country village in one of Miss
Austen's delicious novels, quite sure before we leave it to become
intimate with every spot and every person it contains; or to ramble
with Mr. White* over his own parish of Selborne, and form a
friendship with the fields and coppices, as well as with the birds,
mice, and squirrels, who inhabit them; or to sail with Robinson
Crusoe to his island, and live there with him and his goats and his
man Friday;--how much we dread any new comers, any fresh importation
of savage or sailor! we never sympathise for a moment in our hero's
want of company, and are quite grieved when he gets away;--or to be
shipwrecked with Ferdinand on that other lovelier island--the island
of Prospero, and Miranda, and Caliban, and Ariel, and nobody else,
none of Dryden's exotic inventions:--that is best of all. And a
small neighbourhood is as good in sober waking reality as in poetry
or prose; a village neighbourhood, such as this Berkshire hamlet in
which I write, a long, straggling, winding street at the bottom of a
fine eminence, with a road through it, always abounding in carts,
horsemen, and carriages, and lately enlivened by a stage-coach from
B---- to S----, which passed through about ten days ago, and will I
suppose return some time or other. There are coaches of all
varieties nowadays; perhaps this may be intended for a monthly
diligence, or a fortnight fly. Will you walk with me through our
village, courteous reader? The journey is not long. We will begin
at the lower end, and proceed up the hill.

*White's 'Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne;' one of the
most fascinating books ever written. I wonder that no naturalist
has adopted the same plan.

The tidy, square, red cottage on the right hand, with the long
well-stocked garden by the side of the road, belongs to a retired
publican from a neighbouring town; a substantial person with a
comely wife; one who piques himself on independence and idleness,
talks politics, reads newspapers, hates the minister, and cries out
for reform. He introduced into our peaceful vicinage the rebellious
innovation of an illumination on the Queen's acquittal.
Remonstrance and persuasion were in vain; he talked of liberty and
broken windows--so we all lighted up. Oh! how he shone that night
with candles, and laurel, and white bows, and gold paper, and a
transparency (originally designed for a pocket-handkerchief) with a
flaming portrait of her Majesty, hatted and feathered, in red ochre.
He had no rival in the village, that we all acknowledged; the very
bonfire was less splendid; the little boys reserved their best
crackers to be expended in his honour, and he gave them full
sixpence more than any one else. He would like an illumination once
a month; for it must not be concealed that, in spite of gardening,
of newspaper reading, of jaunting about in his little cart, and
frequenting both church and meeting, our worthy neighbour begins to
feel the weariness of idleness. He hangs over his gate, and tries
to entice passengers to stop and chat; he volunteers little jobs all
round, smokes cherry trees to cure the blight, and traces and blows
up all the wasps'-nests in the parish. I have seen a great many
wasps in our garden to-day, and shall enchant him with the
intelligence. He even assists his wife in her sweepings and
dustings. Poor man! he is a very respectable person, and would be a
very happy one, if he would add a little employment to his dignity.
It would be the salt of life to him.

Next to his house, though parted from it by another long garden with
a yew arbour at the end, is the pretty dwelling of the shoemaker, a
pale, sickly-looking, black-haired man, the very model of sober
industry. There he sits in his little shop from early morning till
late at night. An earthquake would hardly stir him: the
illumination did not. He stuck immovably to his last, from the
first lighting up, through the long blaze and the slow decay, till
his large solitary candle was the only light in the place. One
cannot conceive anything more perfect than the contempt which the
man of transparencies and the man of shoes must have felt for each
other on that evening. There was at least as much vanity in the
sturdy industry as in the strenuous idleness, for our shoemaker is a
man of substance; he employs three journeymen, two lame, and one a
dwarf, so that his shop looks like an hospital; he has purchased the
lease of his commodious dwelling, some even say that he has bought
it out and out; and he has only one pretty daughter, a light,
delicate, fair-haired girl of fourteen, the champion, protectress,
and playfellow of every brat under three years old, whom she jumps,
dances, dandles, and feeds all day long. A very attractive person
is that child-loving girl. I have never seen any one in her station
who possessed so thoroughly that undefinable charm, the lady-look.
See her on a Sunday in her simplicity and her white frock, and she
might pass for an earl's daughter. She likes flowers too, and has a
profusion of white stocks under her window, as pure and delicate as

The first house on the opposite side of the way is the blacksmith's;
a gloomy dwelling, where the sun never seems to shine; dark and
smoky within and without, like a forge. The blacksmith is a high
officer in our little state, nothing less than a constable; but,
alas! alas! when tumults arise, and the constable is called for, he
will commonly be found in the thickest of the fray. Lucky would it
be for his wife and her eight children if there were no public-house
in the land: an inveterate inclination to enter those bewitching
doors is Mr. Constable's only fault.

Next to this official dwelling is a spruce brick tenement, red,
high, and narrow, boasting, one above another, three sash-windows,
the only sash-windows in the village, with a clematis on one side
and a rose on the other, tall and narrow like itself. That slender
mansion has a fine, genteel look. The little parlour seems made for
Hogarth's old maid and her stunted footboy; for tea and card
parties,--it would just hold one table; for the rustle of faded
silks, and the splendour of old china; for the delight of four by
honours, and a little snug, quiet scandal between the deals; for
affected gentility and real starvation. This should have been its
destiny; but fate has been unpropitious: it belongs to a plump,
merry, bustling dame, with four fat, rosy, noisy children, the very
essence of vulgarity and plenty.

Then comes the village shop, like other village shops, multifarious
as a bazaar; a repository for bread, shoes, tea, cheese, tape,
ribands, and bacon; for everything, in short, except the one
particular thing which you happen to want at the moment, and will be
sure not to find. The people are civil and thriving, and frugal
withal; they have let the upper part of their house to two young
women (one of them is a pretty blue-eyed girl) who teach little
children their A B C, and make caps and gowns for their mammas,--
parcel schoolmistress, parcel mantua-maker. I believe they find
adorning the body a more profitable vocation than adorning the mind.

Divided from the shop by a narrow yard, and opposite the
shoemaker's, is a habitation of whose inmates I shall say nothing.
A cottage--no--a miniature house, with many additions, little odds
and ends of places, pantries, and what not; all angles, and of a
charming in-and-outness; a little bricked court before one half, and
a little flower-yard before the other; the walls, old and
weather-stained, covered with hollyhocks, roses, honeysuckles, and a
great apricot-tree; the casements full of geraniums (ah! there is
our superb white cat peeping out from among them); the closets (our
landlord has the assurance to call them rooms) full of contrivances
and corner-cupboards; and the little garden behind full of common
flowers, tulips, pinks, larkspurs, peonies, stocks, and carnations,
with an arbour of privet, not unlike a sentry-box, where one lives
in a delicious green light, and looks out on the gayest of all gay
flower-beds. That house was built on purpose to show in what an
exceeding small compass comfort may be packed. Well, I will loiter
there no longer.

The next tenement is a place of importance, the Rose Inn: a
white-washed building, retired from the road behind its fine
swinging sign, with a little bow-window room coming out on one side,
and forming, with our stable on the other, a sort of open square,
which is the constant resort of carts, waggons, and return chaises.
There are two carts there now, and mine host is serving them with
beer in his eternal red waistcoat. He is a thriving man and a
portly, as his waistcoat attests, which has been twice let out
within this twelvemonth. Our landlord has a stirring wife, a
hopeful son, and a daughter, the belle of the village; not so pretty
as the fair nymph of the shoe-shop, and far less elegant, but ten
times as fine; all curl-papers in the morning, like a porcupine, all
curls in the afternoon, like a poodle, with more flounces than
curl-papers, and more lovers than curls. Miss Phoebe is fitter for
town than country; and to do her justice, she has a consciousness of
that fitness, and turns her steps townward as often as she can. She
is gone to B---- to-day with her last and principal lover, a
recruiting sergeant--a man as tall as Sergeant Kite, and as
impudent. Some day or other he will carry off Miss Phoebe.

In a line with the bow-window room is a low garden-wall, belonging
to a house under repair:--the white house opposite the
collar-maker's shop, with four lime-trees before it, and a
waggon-load of bricks at the door. That house is the plaything of a
wealthy, well-meaning, whimsical person who lives about a mile off.
He has a passion for brick and mortar, and, being too wise to meddle
with his own residence, diverts himself with altering and
re-altering, improving and re-improving, doing and undoing here. It
is a perfect Penelope's web. Carpenters and bricklayers have been
at work for these eighteen months, and yet I sometimes stand and
wonder whether anything has really been done. One exploit in last
June was, however, by no means equivocal. Our good neighbour
fancied that the limes shaded the rooms, and made them dark (there
was not a creature in the house but the workmen), so he had all the
leaves stripped from every tree. There they stood, poor miserable
skeletons, as bare as Christmas under the glowing midsummer sun.
Nature revenged herself, in her own sweet and gracious manner; fresh
leaves sprang out, and at nearly Christmas the foliage was as
brilliant as when the outrage was committed.

Next door lives a carpenter, 'famed ten miles round, and worthy all
his fame,'--few cabinet-makers surpass him, with his excellent wife,
and their little daughter Lizzy, the plaything and queen of the
village, a child three years old according to the register, but six
in size and strength and intellect, in power and in self-will. She
manages everybody in the place, her schoolmistress included; turns
the wheeler's children out of their own little cart, and makes them
draw her; seduces cakes and lollypops from the very shop window;
makes the lazy carry her, the silent talk to her, the grave romp
with her; does anything she pleases; is absolutely irresistible.
Her chief attraction lies in her exceeding power of loving, and her
firm reliance on the love and indulgence of others. How impossible
it would be to disappoint the dear little girl when she runs to meet
you, slides her pretty hand into yours, looks up gladly in your
face, and says 'Come!' You must go: you cannot help it. Another
part of her charm is her singular beauty. Together with a good deal
of the character of Napoleon, she has something of his square,
sturdy, upright form, with the finest limbs in the world, a
complexion purely English, a round laughing face, sunburnt and rosy,
large merry blue eyes, curling brown hair, and a wonderful play of
countenance. She has the imperial attitudes too, and loves to stand
with her hands behind her, or folded over her bosom; and sometimes,
when she has a little touch of shyness, she clasps them together on
the top of her head, pressing down her shining curls, and looking so
exquisitely pretty! Yes, Lizzy is queen of the village! She has
but one rival in her dominions, a certain white greyhound called
Mayflower, much her friend, who resembles her in beauty and
strength, in playfulness, and almost in sagacity, and reigns over
the animal world as she over the human. They are both coming with
me, Lizzy and Lizzy's 'pretty May.' We are now at the end of the
street; a cross-lane, a rope-walk shaded with limes and oaks, and a
cool clear pond overhung with elms, lead us to the bottom of the
hill. There is still one house round the corner, ending in a
picturesque wheeler's shop. The dwelling-house is more ambitious.
Look at the fine flowered window-blinds, the green door with the
brass knocker, and the somewhat prim but very civil person, who is
sending off a labouring man with sirs and curtsies enough for a
prince of the blood. Those are the curate's lodgings--apartments
his landlady would call them; he lives with his own family four
miles off, but once or twice a week he comes to his neat little
parlour to write sermons, to marry, or to bury, as the case may
require. Never were better or kinder people than his host and
hostess; and there is a reflection of clerical importance about them
since their connection with the Church, which is quite edifying--a
decorum, a gravity, a solemn politeness. Oh, to see the worthy
wheeler carry the gown after his lodger on a Sunday, nicely pinned
up in his wife's best handkerchief!--or to hear him rebuke a
squalling child or a squabbling woman! The curate is nothing to
him. He is fit to be perpetual churchwarden.

We must now cross the lane into the shady rope-walk. That pretty
white cottage opposite, which stands straggling at the end of the
village in a garden full of flowers, belongs to our mason, the
shortest of men, and his handsome, tall wife: he, a dwarf, with the
voice of a giant; one starts when he begins to talk as if he were
shouting through a speaking trumpet; she, the sister, daughter, and
grand-daughter, of a long line of gardeners, and no contemptible one
herself. It is very magnanimous in me not to hate her; for she
beats me in my own way, in chrysanthemums, and dahlias, and the like
gauds. Her plants are sure to live; mine have a sad trick of dying,
perhaps because I love them, 'not wisely, but too well,' and kill
them with over-kindness. Half-way up the hill is another detached
cottage, the residence of an officer, and his beautiful family.
That eldest boy, who is hanging over the gate, and looking with such
intense childish admiration at my Lizzy, might be a model for a

How pleasantly the road winds up the hill, with its broad green
borders and hedgerows so thickly timbered! How finely the evening
sun falls on that sandy excavated bank, and touches the farmhouse on
the top of the eminence! and how clearly defined and relieved is the
figure of the man who is just coming
down! It is poor John Evans, the gardener--an excellent gardener
till about ten years ago, when he lost his wife, and became insane.
He was sent to St. Luke's, and dismissed as cured; but his power was
gone and his strength; he could no longer manage a garden, nor
submit to the restraint, nor encounter the fatigue of regular
employment: so he retreated to the workhouse, the pensioner and
factotum of the village, amongst whom he divides his services. His
mind often wanders, intent on some fantastic and impracticable plan,
and lost to present objects; but he is perfectly harmless, and full
of a childlike simplicity, a smiling contentedness, a most touching
gratitude. Every one is kind to John Evans, for there is that about
him which must be loved; and his unprotectedness, his utter
defencelessness, have an irresistible claim on every better feeling.
I know nobody who inspires so deep and tender a pity; he improves
all around him. He is useful, too, to the extent of his little
power; will do anything, but loves gardening best, and still piques
himself on his old arts of pruning fruit-trees, and raising
cucumbers. He is the happiest of men just now, for he has the
management of a melon bed--a melon bed!--fie! What a grand pompous
name was that for three melon plants under a hand-light! John Evans
is sure that they will succeed. We shall see: as the chancellor
said, 'I doubt.'

We are now on the very brow of the eminence, close to the Hill-house
and its beautiful garden. On the outer edge of the paling, hanging
over the bank that skirts the road, is an old thorn--such a thorn!
The long sprays covered with snowy blossoms, so graceful, so
elegant, so lightsome, and yet so rich! There only wants a pool
under the thorn to give a still lovelier reflection, quivering and
trembling, like a tuft of feathers, whiter and greener than the
life, and more prettily mixed with the bright blue sky. There
should indeed be a pool; but on the dark grass-plat, under the high
bank, which is crowned by that magnificent plume, there is something
that does almost as well,--Lizzy and Mayflower in the midst of a
game at romps, 'making a sunshine in the shady place;' Lizzy
rolling, laughing, clapping her hands, and glowing like a rose;
Mayflower playing about her like summer lightning, dazzling the eyes
with her sudden turns, her leaps, her bounds, her attacks, and her
escapes. She darts round the lovely little girl, with the same
momentary touch that the swallow skims over the water, and has
exactly the same power of flight, the same matchless ease and
strength and grace. What a pretty picture they would make; what a
pretty foreground they do make to the real landscape! The road
winding down the hill with a slight bend, like that in the High
Street at Oxford; a waggon slowly ascending, and a horseman passing
it at a full trot--(ah! Lizzy, Mayflower will certainly desert you
to have a gambol with that blood-horse!) half-way down, just at the
turn, the red cottage of the lieutenant, covered with vines, the
very image of comfort and content; farther down, on the opposite
side, the small white dwelling of the little mason; then the limes
and the rope-walk; then the village street, peeping through the
trees, whose clustering tops hide all but the chimneys, and various
roofs of the houses, and here and there some angle of a wall;
farther on, the elegant town of B----, with its fine old
church-towers and spires; the whole view shut in by a range of
chalky hills and over every part of the picture, trees so profusely
scattered, that it appears like a woodland scene, with glades and
villages intermixed. The trees are of all kinds and all hues,
chiefly the finely-shaped elm, of so bright and deep a green, the
tips of whose high outer branches drop down with such a crisp and
garland-like richness, and the oak, whose stately form is just now
so splendidly adorned by the sunny colouring of the young leaves.
Turning again up the hill, we find ourselves on that peculiar charm
of English scenery, a green common, divided by the road; the right
side fringed by hedgerows and trees, with cottages and farmhouses
irregularly placed, and terminated by a double avenue of noble oaks;
the left, prettier still, dappled by bright pools of water, and
islands of cottages and cottage-gardens, and sinking gradually down
to cornfields and meadows, and an old farmhouse, with pointed roofs
and clustered chimneys, looking out from its blooming orchard, and
backed by woody hills. The common is itself the prettiest part of
the prospect; half covered with low furze, whose golden blossoms
reflect so intensely the last beams of the setting sun, and alive
with cows and sheep, and two sets of cricketers; one of young men,
surrounded by spectators, some standing, some sitting, some
stretched on the grass, all taking a delighted interest in the game;
the other, a merry group of little boys, at a humble distance, for
whom even cricket is scarcely lively enough, shouting, leaping, and
enjoying themselves to their hearts' content. But cricketers and
country boys are too important persons in our village to be talked
of merely as figures in the landscape. They deserve an individual
introduction--an essay to themselves--and they shall have it. No
fear of forgetting the good-humoured faces that meet us in our walks
every day.



January 23rd.--At noon to-day I and my white greyhound, Mayflower,
set out for a walk into a very beautiful world,--a sort of silent
fairyland,--a creation of that matchless magician the hoar-frost.
There had been just snow enough to cover the earth and all its
covers with one sheet of pure and uniform white, and just time
enough since the snow had fallen to allow the hedges to be freed of
their fleecy load, and clothed with a delicate coating of rime. The
atmosphere was deliciously calm; soft, even mild, in spite of the
thermometer; no perceptible air, but a stillness that might almost
be felt, the sky, rather gray than blue, throwing out in bold relief
the snow-covered roofs of our village, and the rimy trees that rise
above them, and the sun shining dimly as through a veil, giving a
pale fair light, like the moon, only brighter. There was a silence,
too, that might become the moon, as we stood at our little gate
looking up the quiet street; a Sabbath-like pause of work and play,
rare on a work-day; nothing was audible but the pleasant hum of
frost, that low monotonous sound, which is perhaps the nearest
approach that life and nature can make to absolute silence. The
very waggons as they come down the hill along the beaten track of
crisp yellowish frost-dust, glide along like shadows; even May's
bounding footsteps, at her height of glee and of speed, fall like
snow upon snow.

But we shall have noise enough presently: May has stopped at
Lizzy's door; and Lizzy, as she sat on the window-sill with her
bright rosy face laughing through the casement, has seen her and
disappeared. She is coming. No! The key is turning in the door,
and sounds of evil omen issue through the keyhole--sturdy 'let me
outs,' and 'I will goes,' mixed with shrill cries on May and on me
from Lizzy, piercing through a low continuous harangue, of which the
prominent parts are apologies, chilblains, sliding, broken bones,
lollypops, rods, and gingerbread, from Lizzy's careful mother.
'Don't scratch the door, May! Don't roar so, my Lizzy! We'll call
for you as we come back.' 'I'll go now! Let me out! I will go!'
are the last words of Miss Lizzy. Mem. Not to spoil that child--if
I can help it. But I do think her mother might have let the poor
little soul walk with us to-day. Nothing worse for children than
coddling. Nothing better for chilblains than exercise. Besides, I
don't believe she has any--and as to breaking her bones in sliding,
I don't suppose there's a slide on the common. These murmuring
cogitations have brought us up the hill, and half-way across the
light and airy common, with its bright expanse of snow and its
clusters of cottages, whose turf fires send such wreaths of smoke
sailing up the air, and diffuse such aromatic fragrance around. And
now comes the delightful sound of childish voices, ringing with glee
and merriment almost from beneath our feet. Ah, Lizzy, your mother
was right! They are shouting from that deep irregular pool, all
glass now, where, on two long, smooth, liny slides, half a dozen
ragged urchins are slipping along in tottering triumph. Half a
dozen steps bring us to the bank right above them. May can hardly
resist the temptation of joining her friends, for most of the
varlets are of her acquaintance, especially the rogue who leads the
slide,--he with the brimless hat, whose bronzed complexion and white
flaxen hair, reversing the usual lights and shadows of the human
countenance, give so strange and foreign a look to his flat and
comic features. This hobgoblin, Jack Rapley by name, is May's great
crony; and she stands on the brink of the steep, irregular descent,
her black eyes fixed full upon him, as if she intended him the
favour of jumping on his head. She does: she is down, and upon
him; but Jack Rapley is not easily to be knocked off his feet. He
saw her coming, and in the moment of her leap sprung dexterously off
the slide on the rough ice, steadying himself by the shoulder of the
next in the file, which unlucky follower, thus unexpectedly checked
in his career, fell plump backwards, knocking down the rest of the
line like a nest of card-houses. There is no harm done; but there
they lie, roaring, kicking, sprawling, in every attitude of comic
distress, whilst Jack Rapley and Mayflower, sole authors of this
calamity, stand apart from the throng, fondling, and coquetting, and
complimenting each other, and very visibly laughing, May in her
black eyes, Jack in his wide, close-shut mouth, and his whole
monkey-face, at their comrades' mischances. I think, Miss May, you
may as well come up again, and leave Master Rapley to fight your
battles. He'll get out of the scrape. He is a rustic wit--a sort
of Robin Goodfellow--the sauciest, idlest, cleverest, best-natured
boy in the parish; always foremost in mischief, and always ready to
do a good turn. The sages of our village predict sad things of Jack
Rapley, so that I am sometimes a little ashamed to confess, before
wise people, that I have a lurking predilection for him (in common
with other naughty ones), and that I like to hear him talk to May
almost as well as she does. 'Come, May!' and up she springs, as
light as a bird. The road is gay now; carts and post-chaises, and
girls in red cloaks, and, afar off, looking almost like a toy, the
coach. It meets us fast and soon. How much happier the walkers
look than the riders--especially the frost-bitten gentleman, and the
shivering lady with the invisible face, sole passengers of that
commodious machine! Hooded, veiled, and bonneted, as she is, one
sees from her attitude how miserable she would look uncovered.

Another pond, and another noise of children. More sliding? Oh no!
This is a sport of higher pretension. Our good neighbour, the
lieutenant, skating, and his own pretty little boys, and two or
three other four-year-old elves, standing on the brink in an ecstasy
of joy and wonder! Oh what happy spectators! And what a happy
performer! They admiring, he admired, with an ardour and sincerity
never excited by all the quadrilles and the spread-eagles of the
Seine and the Serpentine. He really skates well though, and I am
glad I came this way; for, with all the father's feelings sitting
gaily at his heart, it must still gratify the pride of skill to have
one spectator at that solitary pond who has seen skating before.

Now we have reached the trees,--the beautiful trees! never so
beautiful as to-day. Imagine the effect of a straight and regular
double avenue of oaks, nearly a mile long, arching overhead, and
closing into perspective like the roof and columns of a cathedral,
every tree and branch incrusted with the bright and delicate
congelation of hoar-frost, white and pure as snow, delicate and
defined as carved ivory. How beautiful it is, how uniform, how
various, how filling, how satiating to the eye and to the mind--
above all, how melancholy! There is a thrilling awfulness, an
intense feeling of simple power in that naked and colourless beauty,
which falls on the earth like the thoughts of death--death pure, and
glorious, and smiling,--but still death. Sculpture has always the
same effect on my imagination, and painting never. Colour is life.-
-We are now at the end of this magnificent avenue, and at the top of
a steep eminence commanding a wide view over four counties--a
landscape of snow. A deep lane leads abruptly down the hill; a mere
narrow cart-track, sinking between high banks clothed with fern and
furze and low broom, crowned with luxuriant hedgerows, and famous
for their summer smell of thyme. How lovely these banks are now--
the tall weeds and the gorse fixed and stiffened in the hoar-frost,
which fringes round the bright prickly holly, the pendent foliage of
the bramble, and the deep orange leaves of the pollard oaks! Oh,
this is rime in its loveliest form! And there is still a berry here
and there on the holly, 'blushing in its natural coral' through the
delicate tracery, still a stray hip or haw for the birds, who abound
here always. The poor birds, how tame they are, how sadly tame!
There is the beautiful and rare crested wren, 'that shadow of a
bird,' as White of Selborne calls it, perched in the middle of the
hedge, nestling as it were amongst the cold bare boughs, seeking,
poor pretty thing, for the warmth it will not find. And there,
farther on, just under the bank, by the slender runlet, which still
trickles between its transparent fantastic margin of thin ice, as if
it were a thing of life,--there, with a swift, scudding motion,
flits, in short low flights, the gorgeous kingfisher, its
magnificent plumage of scarlet and blue flashing in the sun, like
the glories of some tropical bird. He is come for water to this
little spring by the hillside,--water which even his long bill and
slender head can hardly reach, so nearly do the fantastic forms of
those garland-like icy margins meet over the tiny stream beneath.
It is rarely that one sees the shy beauty so close or so long; and
it is pleasant to see him in the grace and beauty of his natural
liberty, the only way to look at a bird. We used, before we lived
in a street, to fix a little board outside the parlour window, and
cover it with bread crumbs in the hard weather. It was quite
delightful to see the pretty things come and feed, to conquer their
shyness, and do away their mistrust. First came the more social
tribes, 'the robin red-breast and the wren,' cautiously,
suspiciously, picking up a crumb on the wing, with the little keen
bright eye fixed on the window; then they would stop for two pecks;
then stay till they were satisfied. The shyer birds, tamed by their
example, came next; and at last one saucy fellow of a blackbird--a
sad glutton, he would clear the board in two minutes,--used to tap
his yellow bill against the window for more. How we loved the
fearless confidence of that fine, frank-hearted creature! And
surely he loved us. I wonder the practice is not more general.
'May! May! naughty May!' She has frightened away the kingfisher;
and now, in her coaxing penitence, she is covering me with snow.
'Come, pretty May! it is time to go home.'


January 28th.--We have had rain, and snow, and frost, and rain again
four days of absolute confinement. Now it is a thaw and a flood;
but our light gravelly soil, and country boots, and country
hardihood, will carry us through. What a dripping, comfortless day
it is! just like the last days of November: no sun, no sky, gray or
blue; one low, overhanging, dark, dismal cloud, like London smoke;
Mayflower is out coursing too, and Lizzy gone to school. Never
mind. Up the hill again! Walk we must. Oh what a watery world to
look back upon! Thames, Kennet, Loddon--all overflowed; our famous
town, inland once, turned into a sort of Venice; C. park converted
into an island; and the long range of meadows from B. to W. one huge
unnatural lake, with trees growing out of it. Oh what a watery
world!--I will look at it no longer. I will walk on. The road is
alive again. Noise is reborn. Waggons creak, horses splash, carts
rattle, and pattens paddle through the dirt with more than their
usual clink. The common has its old fine tints of green and brown,
and its old variety of inhabitants, horses, cows, sheep, pigs, and
donkeys. The ponds are unfrozen, except where some melancholy piece
of melting ice floats sullenly on the water; and cackling geese and
gabbling ducks have replaced the lieutenant and Jack Rapley. The
avenue is chill and dark, the hedges are dripping, the lanes
knee-deep, and all nature is in a state of 'dissolution and thaw.'


March 6th.--Fine March weather: boisterous, blustering, much wind
and squalls of rain; and yet the sky, where the clouds are swept
away, deliciously blue, with snatches of sunshine, bright, and
clear, and healthful, and the roads, in spite of the slight
glittering showers, crisply dry. Altogether the day is tempting,
very tempting. It will not do for the dear common, that windmill of
a walk; but the close sheltered lanes at the bottom of the hill,
which keep out just enough of the stormy air, and let in all the
sun, will be delightful. Past our old house, and round by the
winding lanes, and the workhouse, and across the lea, and so into
the turnpike-road again,--that is our route for to-day. Forth we
set, Mayflower and I, rejoicing in the sunshine, and still more in
the wind, which gives such an intense feeling of existence, and,
co-operating with brisk motion, sets our blood and our spirits in a
glow. For mere physical pleasure, there is nothing perhaps equal to
the enjoyment of being drawn, in a light carriage, against such a
wind as this, by a blood-horse at his height of speed. Walking
comes next to it; but walking is not quite so luxurious or so
spiritual, not quite so much what one fancies of flying, or being
carried above the clouds in a balloon.

Nevertheless, a walk is a good thing; especially under this southern
hedgerow, where nature is just beginning to live again; the
periwinkles, with their starry blue flowers, and their shining
myrtle-like leaves, garlanding the bushes; woodbines and elder-trees
pushing out their small swelling buds; and grasses and mosses
springing forth in every variety of brown and green. Here we are at
the corner where four lanes meet, or rather where a passable road of
stones and gravel crosses an impassable one of beautiful but
treacherous turf, and where the small white farmhouse, scarcely
larger than a cottage, and the well-stocked rick-yard behind, tell
of comfort and order, but leave all unguessed the great riches of
the master. How he became so rich is almost a puzzle; for, though
the farm be his own, it is not large; and though prudent and frugal
on ordinary occasions, Farmer Barnard is no miser. His horses,
dogs, and pigs are the best kept in the parish,--May herself,
although her beauty be injured by her fatness, half envies the
plight of his bitch Fly: his wife's gowns and shawls cost as much
again as any shawls or gowns in the village; his dinner parties (to
be sure they are not frequent) display twice the ordinary quantity
of good things--two couples of ducks, two dishes of green peas, two
turkey poults, two gammons of bacon, two plum-puddings; moreover, he
keeps a single-horse chaise, and has built and endowed a Methodist
chapel. Yet is he the richest man in these parts. Everything
prospers with him. Money drifts about him like snow. He looks like
a rich man. There is a sturdy squareness of face and figure; a
good-humoured obstinacy; a civil importance. He never boasts of his
wealth, or gives himself undue airs; but nobody can meet him at
market or vestry without finding out immediately that he is the
richest man there. They have no child to all this money; but there
is an adopted nephew, a fine spirited lad, who may, perhaps, some
day or other, play the part of a fountain to the reservoir.

Now turn up the wide road till we come to the open common, with its
park-like trees, its beautiful stream, wandering and twisting along,
and its rural bridge. Here we turn again, past that other white
farmhouse, half hidden by the magnificent elms which stand before
it. Ah! riches dwell not there, but there is found the next best
thing--an industrious and light-hearted poverty. Twenty years ago
Rachel Hilton was the prettiest and merriest lass in the country.
Her father, an old gamekeeper, had retired to a village alehouse,
where his good beer, his social humour, and his black-eyed daughter,
brought much custom. She had lovers by the score; but Joseph White,
the dashing and lively son of an opulent farmer, carried off the
fair Rachel. They married and settled here, and here they live
still, as merrily as ever, with fourteen children of all ages and
sizes, from nineteen years to nineteen months, working harder than
any people in the parish, and enjoying themselves more. I would
match them for labour and laughter against any family in England.
She is a blithe, jolly dame, whose beauty has amplified into
comeliness; he is tall, and thin, and bony, with sinews like
whipcord, a strong lively voice, a sharp weather-beaten face, and
eyes and lips that smile and brighten when he speaks into a most
contagious hilarity. They are very poor, and I often wish them
richer; but I don't know--perhaps it might put them out.

Quite close to Farmer White's is a little ruinous cottage,
white-washed once, and now in a sad state of betweenity, where
dangling stockings and shirts, swelled by the wind, drying in a
neglected garden, give signal of a washerwoman. There dwells, at
present in single blessedness, Betty Adams, the wife of our
sometimes gardener. I never saw any one who so much reminded me in
person of that lady whom everybody knows, Mistress Meg Merrilies;--
as tall, as grizzled, as stately, as dark, as gipsy-looking,
bonneted and gowned like her prototype, and almost as oracular.
Here the resemblance ceases. Mrs. Adams is a perfectly honest,
industrious, painstaking person, who earns a good deal of money by
washing and charing, and spends it in other luxuries than tidiness,-
-in green tea, and gin, and snuff. Her husband lives in a great
family, ten miles off. He is a capital gardener--or rather he would
be so, if he were not too ambitious. He undertakes all things, and
finishes none. But a smooth tongue, a knowing look, and a great
capacity of labour, carry him through. Let him but like his ale and
his master and he will do work enough for four. Give him his own
way, and his full quantum, and nothing comes amiss to him.

Ah, May is bounding forward! Her silly heart leaps at the sight of
the old place--and so in good truth does mine. What a pretty place
it was--or rather, how pretty I thought it! I suppose I should have
thought any place so where I had spent eighteen happy years. But it
was really pretty. A large, heavy, white house, in the simplest
style, surrounded by fine oaks and elms, and tall massy plantations
shaded down into a beautiful lawn by wild overgrown shrubs, bowery
acacias, ragged sweet-briers, promontories of dogwood, and Portugal
laurel, and bays, over-hung by laburnum and bird-cherry; a long
piece of water letting light into the picture, and looking just like
a natural stream, the banks as rude and wild as the shrubbery,
interspersed with broom, and furze, and bramble, and pollard oaks
covered with ivy and honeysuckle; the whole enclosed by an old mossy
park paling, and terminating in a series of rich meadows, richly
planted. This is an exact description of the home which, three
years ago, it nearly broke my heart to leave. What a tearing up by
the root it was! I have pitied cabbage-plants and celery, and all
transplantable things, ever since; though, in common with them, and
with other vegetables, the first agony of the transportation being
over, I have taken such firm and tenacious hold of my new soil, that
I would not for the world be pulled up again, even to be restored to
the old beloved ground;--not even if its beauty were undiminished,
which is by no means the case; for in those three years it has
thrice changed masters, and every successive possessor has brought
the curse of improvement upon the place; so that between filling up
the water to cure dampness, cutting down trees to let in prospects,
planting to keep them out, shutting up windows to darken the inside
of the house (by which means one end looks precisely as an eight of
spades would do that should have the misfortune to lose one of his
corner pips), and building colonnades to lighten the out, added to a
general clearance of pollards, and brambles, and ivy, and
honeysuckles, and park palings, and irregular shrubs, the poor place
is so transmogrified, that if it had its old looking-glass, the
water, back again, it would not know its own face. And yet I love
to haunt round about it: so does May. Her particular attraction is

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest