Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Oct. 23rd to 27th, 1825: Chilworth to Winchester

Next Selection Previous Selection


Sunday Evening, October 23, 1825.

WE set out from Chilworth to-day about noon. This is a little hamlet, lying under the south side of St. Martha's Hill; and on the other side of that hill, a little to the north-west, is the town of Guildford, which (taken with its environs) I, who have seen so many, many towns, think the prettiest, and, taken all together, the most agreeable and most happy-looking that I ever saw in my life. Here are hill and dell in endless variety. Here are the chalk and the sand, vieing with each other in making beautiful scenes. Here is a navigable river and fine meadows. Here are woods and downs. Here is something of everything but fat marshes and their skeleton-making agues . The vale, all the way down to Chilworth from Reigate, is very delightful. We did not go to Guildford, nor did we cross the River Wey, to come through Godalming; but bore away to our left, and came through the village of Hambleton, going first to Hascomb to show Richard the South Downs from that high land, which looks southward over the Wealds of Surrey and Sussex, with all their fine and innumerable oak-trees. Those that travel on turnpike-roads know nothing of England. From Hascomb to Thursley almost the whole way is across fields, or commons, or along narrow lands. Here we see the people without any disguise or affectation. Against a great road things are made for show . Here we see them without any show . And here we gain real knowledge as to their situation. We crossed to-day three turnpike-roads, that from Guildford to Horsham, that from Godalming to Worthing, I believe, and that from Godalming to Chichester.

Wednesday, Oct . 26.

The weather has been beautiful ever since last Thursday morning; but there has been a white frost every morning, and the days have been coldish. Here , however, I am quite at home in a room where there is one of my American fireplaces , bought by my host of Mr. Judson of Kensington, who has made many a score of families comfortable, instead of sitting shivering in the cold. At the house of the gentleman whose house I am now in, there is a good deal of fuel-wood ; and here I see in the parlours those fine and cheerful fires that make a great part of the happiness of the Americans. But these fires are to be had only in this sort of fireplace. Ten times the fuel; nay, no quantity, would effect the same object, in any other fireplace. It is equally good for coal as for wood; but, for pleasure , a wood-fire is the thing. There is round about almost every gentleman's or great farmer's house more wood suffered to rot every year, in one shape or another, than would make (with this fireplace) a couple of rooms constantly warm, from October to June. Here , peat, turf, saw-dust, and wood, are burnt in these fireplaces. My present host has three of these fireplaces.

The great business of life, in the country, appertains, in some way or other, to the game , and especially at this time of the year. If it were not for the game, a country life would be like an everlasting honeymoon , which would, in about half a century, put an end to the human race. In towns, or large villages, people make a shift to find the means of rubbing the rust off from each other by a vast variety of sources of contest. A couple of wives meeting in the street, and giving each other a wry look, or a look not quite civil enough, will, if the parties be hard pushed for a ground of contention, do pretty well. But in the country there is, alas! no such resource. Here are no walls for people to take of each other. Here they are so placed as to prevent the possibility of such lucky local contact. Here is more than room of every sort, elbow, leg, horse, or carriage, for them all. Even at church (most of the people being in the meeting-houses) the pews are surprisingly too large. Here, therefore, where all circumstances seem calculated to cause never-ceasing concord with its accompanying dullness, there would be no relief at all, were it not for the game . This, happily, supplies the place of all sources of alternate dispute and reconciliation; it keeps all in life and motion, from the lord down to the hedger. When I see two men, whether in a market-room, by the way-side, in a parlour, in a church-yard, or even in the church itself, engaged in manifestly deep and most momentous discourse, I will, if it be any time between September and February, bet ten to one that it is, in some way or other, about the game . The wives and daughters hear so much of it that they inevitably get engaged in the disputes; and thus all are kept in a state of vivid animation. I should like very much to be able to take a spot, a circle of 12 miles in diameter, and take an exact account of all the time spent by each individual, above the age of ten (that is the age they begin at), in talking, during the game season of one year, about the game and about sporting exploits. I verily believe that it would amount, upon an average, to six times as much as all the other talk put together; and, as to the anger, the satisfaction, the scolding, the commendation, the chagrin, the exultation, the envy, the emulation, where are there any of these in the country unconnected with the game ?

There is, however, an important distinction to be made between hunters (including coursers) and shooters . The latter are, as far as relates to their exploits, a disagreeable class compared with the former; and the reason of this is, their doings are almost wholly their own; while, in the case of the others, the achievements are the property of the dogs. Nobody likes to hear another talk much in praise of his own acts, unless those acts have a manifest tendency to produce some good to the hearer; and shooters do talk much of their own exploits, and those exploits rather tend to humiliate the hearer. Then, a greater shooter will, nine times out of ten, go so far as almost to lie a little ; and though people do not tell him of it, they do not like him the better for it; and he but too frequently discovers that they do not believe him: whereas, hunters are mere followers of the dogs, as mere spectators; their praises, if any are called for, are bestowed on the greyhounds, the hounds, the fox, the hare, or the horses. There is a little rivalship in the riding, or in the behaviour of the horses; but this has so little to do with the personal merit of the sportsmen, that it never produces a want of good fellowship in the evening of the day. A shooter who has been missing all day, must have an uncommon share of good sense not to feel mortified while the slaughterers are relating the adventures of that day; and this is what cannot exist in the case of the hunters. Bring me into a room, with a dozen men in it, who have been sporting all day; or rather let me be in an adjoining room, where I can hear the sound of their voices, without being able to distinguish the words, and I will bet ten to one that I tell whether they be hunters or shooters.

I was once acquainted with a famous shooter whose name was William Ewing. He was a barrister of Philadelphia, but became far more renowned by his gun than by his law cases. We spent scores of days together a shooting, and and were extremely well matched, I having excellent dogs and caring little about my reputation as a shot, his dogs being good for nothing, and he caring more about his reputation as a shot than as a lawyer. The fact which I am going to relate respecting this gentleman ought to be a warning to young men how they become enamoured of this species of vanity. We had gone about ten miles from our home, to shoot where partridges were said to be very plentiful. We found them so. In the course of a November day, he had, just before dark, shot, and sent to the farm-house, or kept in his bag, ninety-nine partridges. He made some few double shots , and he might have a miss or two, for he sometimes shot when out of my sight, on account of the woods. However, he said that he killed at every shot; and as he had counted the birds, when he went to dinner at the farm-house and when he cleaned his gun, he, just before sunset, knew that he had killed ninety-nine partridges, every one upon the wing, and a great part of them in woods very thickly set with largish trees. It was a grand achievement; but, unfortunately, he wanted to make it a hundred . The sun was setting, and, in that country, darkness comes almost at once; it is more like the going out of a candle than that of a fire; and I wanted to be off, as we had a very bad road to go, and as he, being under strict petticoat government, to which he most loyally and dutifully submitted, was compelled to get home that night, taking me with him, the vehicle (horse and gig) being mine. I, therefore, pressed him to come away, and moved on myself towards the house (that of old John Brown, in Bucks county, grandfather of that General Brown, who gave some of our whiskered heroes such a rough handling last war, which was waged for the purpose of "deposing James Madison"), at which house I would have stayed all night, but from which I was compelled to go by that watchful government, under which he had the good fortune to live. Therefore I was in haste to be off. No: he would kill the hundredth bird! In vain did I talk of the bad road and its many dangers for want of moon. The poor partridges, which we had scattered about, were calling all around us; and, just at this moment, up got one under his feet, in a field in which the wheat was three or four inches high. He shot and missed . "That's it," said he, running as if to pick up the bird. "What!" said I, "you don't think you killed , do you? Why there is the bird now, not only alive, but calling in that wood"; which was at about a hundred yards' distance. He, in that form of words usually employed in such cases, asserted that he shot the bird and saw it fall; and I, in much about the same form of words, asserted that he had missed , and that I, with my own eyes, saw the bird fly into the wood. This was too much! To miss once out of a hundred times! To lose such a chance of immortality! He was a good-humoured man; I liked him very much; and I could not help feeling for him, when he said, "Well, sir , I killed the bird; and if you choose to go away and take your dog away, so as to prevent me from finding it, you must do it; the dog is yours, to be sure." "The dog," said I, in a very mild tone, "why, Ewing, there is the spot; and could we not see it, upon this smooth green surface, if it were there?" However, he began to look about ; and I called the dog, and affected to join him in the search. Pity for his weakness got the better of my dread of the bad road. After walking backward and forward many times upon about twenty yards square with our eyes on the ground, looking for what both of us knew was not there, I had passed him (he was going one way and I the other), and I happened to be turning round just after I had passed him, when I saw him, putting his hand behind him, take a partridge out of his bag and let it fall upon the ground ! I felt no temptation to detect him, but turned away my head, and kept looking about. Presently he, having returned to the spot where the bird was, called out to me, in a most triumphant tone, "Here ! here ! Come here!" I went up to him, and he, pointing with his finger down to the bird, and looking hard in my face at the same time, said, "There, Cobbett; I hope that will be a warning to you never to be obstinate again!" "Well," said I, "come along:" and away we went as merry as larks. When we got to Brown's, he told them the story, triumphed over me most clamorously; and though he often repeated the story to my face, I never had the heart to let him know that I knew of the imposition, which puerile vanity had induced so sensible and honourable a man to be mean enough to practise. A professed shot is, almost always, a very disagreeable brother sportsman. He must, in the first place, have a head rather of the emptiest to pride himself upon so poor a talent. Then he is always out of temper, if the game fail, or if he miss it. He never participates in that great delight which all sensible men enjoy at beholding the beautiful action, the docility, the zeal, the wonderful sagacity of the pointer and the setter. He is always thinking about himself : always anxious to surpass his companions. I remember that, once, Ewing and I had lost our dog. We were in a wood, and the dog had gone out and found a covey in a wheat stubble joining the wood. We had been whistling and calling him for, perhaps, half an hour or more. When we came out of the wood we saw him pointing, with one foot up; and soon after, he, keeping his foot and body unmoved, gently turned round his head towards the spot where he heard us, as if to bid us come on, and when he saw that we saw him, turned his head back again. I was so delighted that I stopped to look with admiration. Ewing, astonished at my want of alacrity, pushed on, shot one of the partridges, and thought no more about the conduct of the dog than if the sagacious creature had had nothing at all to do with the matter. When I left America, in 1800, I gave this dog to Lord Henry Stuart, who was, when he came home a year or two afterwards, about to bring him to astonish the sportsmen even in England; but those of Pennsylvania were resolved not to part with him, and therefore they stole him the night before his lordship came away. Lord Henry had plenty of pointers after his return, and he saw hundreds; but always declared that he never saw anything approaching in excellence this American dog. For the information of sportsmen I ought to say that this was a small-headed and sharp-nosed pointer, hair as fine as that of a greyhound, little and short ears, very light in the body, very long legged, and swift as a good lurcher. I had him a puppy, and he never had any breaking , but he pointed staunchly at once; and I am of opinion that this sort is, in all respects, better than the heavy breed. Mr. Thornton (I beg his pardon, I believe he is now a knight of some sort), who was, and perhaps still is, our envoy in Portugal, at the time here referred to was a sort of partner with Lord Henry in this famous dog; and gratitude (to the memory of the dog I mean) will, I am sure, or at least, I hope so, make him bear witness to the truth of my character of him; and if one could hear an ambassador speak out , I think that Mr. Thornton would acknowledge that his calling has brought him in pretty close contact with many a man who was possessed of most tremendous political power, without possessing half the sagacity, half the understanding, of this dog, and without being a thousandth part so faithful to his trust.

I am quite satisfied that there are as many sorts of men as there are of dogs. Swift was a man, and so is Walter the base. But is the sort the same? It cannot be education alone that makes the amazing difference that we see. Besides, we see men of the very same rank and riches and education differing as widely as the pointer does from the pug. The name, man , is common to all the sorts, and hence arises very great mischief. What confusion must there be in rural affairs, if there were no names whereby to distinguish hounds, greyhounds, pointers, spaniels, terriers, and sheep dogs, from each other! And what pretty work if, without regard to the sorts of dogs, men were to attempt to employ them ! Yet this is done in the case of men ! A man is always a man ; and without the least regard as to the sort , they are promiscuously placed in all kinds of situations. Now, if Mr. Brougham, Doctors Birkbeck, Macculloch and Black, and that profound personage, Lord John Russell, will, in their forthcoming "London University," teach us how to divide men into sorts , instead of teaching us to "augment the capital of the nation" by making paper-money, they will render us a real service. That will be feelosofy worth attending to. What would be said of the 'squire who should take a fox-hound out to find partridges for him to shoot at? Yet would this be more absurd than to set a man to law-making who was manifestly formed for the express purpose of sweeping the streets or digging out sewers?

Thursday , 27 Oct.

We came over the heath from Thursley, this morning, on our way to Winchester. Mr. Wyndham's fox-hounds are coming to Thursley on Saturday. More than three-fourths of all the interesting talk in that neighbourhood, for some days past, has been about this anxiously looked-for event. I have seen no man or boy, who did not talk about it. There had been a false report about it; the hounds did not come ; and the anger of the disappointed people was very great. At last, however, the authentic intelligence came, and I left them all as happy as if all were young and all just going to be married. An abatement of my pleasure, however, on this joyous occasion was, that I brought away with me one , who was as eager as the best of them. Richard, though now only 11 years and 6 months old, had, it seems, one fox-hunt, in Herefordshire, last winter; and he actually has begun to talk rather contemptuously of hare hunting. To show me that he is in no danger , he had been leaping his horse over banks and ditches by the road side, all our way across the country from Reigate; and he joined with such glee in talking of the expected arrival of the fox-hounds that I felt some little pain at bringing him away. My engagement at Winchester is for Saturday; but if it had not been so, the deep and hidden ruts in the heath, in a wood in the midst of which the hounds are sure to find, and the immense concourse of horsemen that is sure to be assembled, would have made me bring him away. Upon the high, hard and open countries I should not be afraid for him, but here the danger would have been greater than it would have been right for me to suffer him to run. We came hither by the way of Waverley Abbey and Moore Park. On the commons I showed Richard some of my old hunting scenes, when I was of his age, or younger, reminding him that I was obliged to hunt on foot. We got leave to go and see the grounds at Waverley where all the old monks' garden walls are totally gone, and where the spot is become a sort of lawn. I showed him the spot where the strawberry garden was, and where I, when sent to gather hautboys , used to eat every remarkably fine one, instead of letting it go to be eaten by Sir Robert Rich. I showed him a tree, close by the ruins of the Abbey, from a limb of which I once fell into the river, in an attempt to take the nest of a crow , which had artfully placed it upon a branch so far from the trunk as not to be able to bear the weight of a boy eight years old. I showed him an old elm-tree which was hollow even then, into which I, when a very little boy, once saw a cat go, that was as big as a middle-sized spaniel dog, for relating which I got a great scolding, for standing to which I, at last, got a beating; but stand to which I still did. I have since many times repeated it; and I would take my oath of it to this day. When in New Brunswick I saw the great wild grey cat, which is there called a Lucifee ; and it seemed to me to be just such a cat as I had seen at Waverley. I found the ruins not very greatly diminished; but it is strange how small the mansion, and ground, and everything but the trees, appeared to me. There were all great to my mind when I saw them last; and that early impression had remained, whenever I had talked or thought of the spot; so that, when I came to see them again, after seeing the sea and so many other immense things, it seemed as if they had all been made small. This was not the case with regard to the trees, which are nearly as big here as they are any where else; and the old cat-elm, for instance, which Richard measured with his whip, is about 16 or 17 feet round.

From Waverley we went to Moore Park, once the seat of Sir William Temple, and when I was a very little boy, the seat of a Lady, or a Mrs. Temple. Here I showed Richard Mother Ludlum's Hole; but, alas! it is not the enchanting place that I knew it, nor that which Grose describes in his Antiquities! The semicircular paling is gone; the basins, to catch the never ceasing little stream, are gone; the iron cups, fastened by chains, for people to drink out of, are gone; the pavement all broken to pieces; the seats for people to sit on, on both sides of the cave, torn up and gone; the stream that ran down a clean paved channel now making a dirty gutter; and the ground opposite, which was a grove, chiefly of laurels, intersected by closely mowed grass-walks, now become a poor, ragged-looking alder-coppice. Near the mansion, I showed Richard the hill upon which Dean Swift tells us he used to run for exercise, while he was pursuing his studies here; and I would have showed him the garden-seat, under which Sir William Temple's heart was buried, agreeably to his will; but the seat was gone, also the wall at the back of it; and the exquisitely beautiful little lawn in which the seat stood was turned into a parcel of divers-shaped cockney-clumps, planted according to the strictest rules of artificial and refined vulgarity.

At Waverley, Mr. Thompson, a merchant of some sort, has succeeded (after the monks) the Orby Hunters and Sir Robert Rich. At Moore Park, a Mr. Laing, a West India planter or merchant, has succeeded the Temples; and at the castle of Farnham, which you see from Moore Park, Bishop Prettyman Tomline has, at last, after perfectly regular and due gradations, succeeded William of Wykham! In coming up from Moore Park to Farnham town, I stopped opposite the door of a little old house, where there appeared to be a great parcel of children. "There, Dick," said I, "when I was just such a little creature as that whom you see in the door-way, I lived in this very house with my grandmother Cobbett." He pulled up his horse, and looked very hard at it , but said nothing, and on we came.

William Cobbett, Rural Rides (Letchworth: Temple Press, 1932)

Next Selection Previous Selection