Picture of William Cobbett

William Cobbett

places mentioned

Aug. 24th to 28th, 1826: Burghclere to Petersfield

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Thursday, Aug . 24, 1826.

We left Burghclere last evening in the rain; but as our distance was only about seven miles, the consequence was little. The crops of corn, except oats, have been very fine hereabouts; and there are never any pease, nor any beans, grown here. The sainfoin fields, though on these high lands, and though the dry weather has been of such long continuance, look as green as watered meadows, and a great deal more brilliant and beautiful. I have often described this beautiful village (which lies in a deep dell) and its very variously shaped environs, in my Register of November 1822. This is one of those countries of chalk and flint and dry-top soil and hard roads and high and bare hills and deep dells, with clumps of lofty trees here and there, which are so many rookeries: this is one of those countries, or rather, approaching towards those countries, of downs and flocks of sheep, which I like so much, which I always get to when I can, and which many people seem to flee from as naturally as men flee from pestilence. They call such countries naked and barren , though they are in the summer months, actually covered with meat and with corn.

There is a great falling off in the price of horses, and of all cattle except fat cattle; and observe, when the prospect is good, it shows a rise in the price of lean cattle; not in that of the meat which is just ready to go into the mouth. Prices will go on gradually falling, as they did from 1819 to 1822 inclusive, unless upheld by untoward seasons, or by an issue of assignats; for, mind, it would be no joke, no sham, this time ; it would be an issue of as real, as bona fide assignats as ever came from the mint of any set of rascals that ever robbed and enslaved a people in the names of "liberty and law."

Sunday Evening, August 27.

We set off from Uphusband on Friday, about ten o'clock, the morning having been wet. My sons came round, in the chaise, by Andover and Weyhill, while I came right across the country towards Ludgarshall, which lies in the road from Andover to this place. I never knew the flies so troublesome in England as I found them in this ride. I was obliged to carry a great bough, and to keep it in constant motion, in order to make the horse peaceable enough to enable me to keep on his back. It is a country of fields, lanes, and high hedges; so that no wind could come to relieve my horse; and, in spite of all I could do, a great part of him was covered with foam from the sweat. In the midst of this, I got, at one time, a little out of my road in or near a place called Tangley. I rode up to the garden-wicket of a cottage, and asked the woman, who had two children, and who seemed to be about thirty years old, which was the way to Ludgarshall, which I knew could not be more than about four miles off. She did not know! A very neat, smart, and pretty woman; but she did not know the way to this rotten borough, which was, I was sure, only about four miles off! "Well, my dear good woman," said I, "but you have been at Ludgarshall?" "No." "Nor at Andover?" (six miles another way). "No." "Nor at Marlborough?" (nine miles another way). "No." "Pray, were you born in this house?" "Yes." "And how far have you ever been from this house?" "Oh! I have been up in the parish and over to Chute ." That is to say, the utmost extent of her voyages had been about two and a half miles! Let no one laugh at her, and, above all others, let not me, who am convinced that the facilities which now exist of moving human bodies from place to place are amongst the curses of the country, the destroyers of industry, of morals, and, of course, of happiness. It is a great error to suppose that people are rendered stupid by remaining always in the same place. This was a very acute woman, and as well behaved as need to be. There was in July last (last month) a Preston man who had never been further from home than Chorley (about eight or ten miles), and who started off, on foot , and went, alone , to Rouen, in France, and back again to London, in the space of about ten days; and that, too, without being able to speak, or to understand, a word of French. N.B. Those gentlemen who, at Green Street, in Kent, were so kind to this man, upon finding that he had voted for me , will be pleased to accept of my best thanks. Wilding (that is the man's name) was full of expressions of gratitude towards these gentlemen. He spoke of others who were good to him on his way; and even at Calais he found friends on my account; but he was particularly loud in his praises of the gentlemen in Kent, who had been so good and so kind to him, that he seemed quite in an ecstasy when he talked of their conduct.

Before I got to the rotten borough I came out upon a down, just on the border of the two counties Hampshire and Wiltshire. Here I came up with my sons, and we entered the rotten borough together. It contained some rashers of bacon and a very civil landlady; but it is one of the most mean and beggarly places that man ever set his eyes on. The curse attending corruption seems to be upon it. The look of the place would make one swear that there never was a clean shirt in it since the first stone of it was laid. It must have been a large place once, though it now contains only 479 persons, men, women, and children. The borough is, as to all practical purposes, as much private property as this pen is my private property. Aye, aye! Let the petitioners of Manchester bawl as long as they like against all other evils; but until they touch this master-evil , they do nothing at all.

Everley is but about three miles from Ludgarshall, so that we got here in the afternoon of Friday: and in the evening a very heavy storm came and drove away all flies, and made the air delightful. This is a real down-country. Here you see miles and miles square without a tree, or hedge, or bush. It is country of greensward. This is the most famous place in all England for coursing . I was here, at this very inn, with a party eighteen years ago; and the landlord, who is still the same, recognised me as soon as he saw me. There were forty brace of greyhounds taken out into the field on one of the days, and every brace had one course, and some of them two. The ground is the finest in the world; from two to three miles for the hare to run to cover, and not a stone nor a bush nor a hillock. It was here proved to me that the hare is, by far, the swiftest of all English animals; for I saw three hares, in one day, run away from the dogs. To give dog and hare a fair trial there should be but one dog. Then, if that dog got so close as to compel the hare to turn , that would be a proof that the dog ran fastest. When the dog, or dogs, never get near enough to the hare to induce her to turn , she is said, and very justly, to "run away " from them; and as I saw three hares do this in one day, I conclude that the hare is the swiftest animal of the two. This inn is one of the nicest, and, in summer, one of the pleasantest, in England; for I think that my experience in this way will justify me in speaking thus positively. The house is large, the yard and the stables good, the landlord a farmer also, and, therefore, no cribbing your horses in hay or straw and yourself in eggs and cream. The garden, which adjoins the south side of the house, is large, of good shape, has a terrace on one side, lies on the slope, consists of well-disposed clumps of shrubs and flowers, and of short grass very neatly kept. In the lower part of the garden there are high trees, and, amongst these, the tulip-tree and the live-oak. Beyond the garden is a large clump of lofty sycamores, and in these a most populous rookery, in which, of all things in the world, I delight. The village, which contains 301 souls, lies to the north of the inn, but adjoining its premises. All the rest, in every direction, is bare down or open arable. I am now sitting at one of the southern windows of this inn, looking across the garden towards the rookery. It is nearly sun-setting; the rooks are skimming and curving over the tops of the trees; while under the branches I see a flock of several hundred sheep coming nibbling their way in from the down and going to their fold. Now, what ill-natured devil could bring Old Nic Grimshaw into my head in company with these innocent sheep? Why, the truth is this: nothing is so swift as thought : it runs over a life-time in a moment; and while I was writing the last sentence of the foregoing paragraph, thought took me up at the time when I used to wear a smock-frock and to carry a wooden bottle like that shepherd's boy; and, in an instant, it hurried me along through my no very short life of adventure, of toil, of peril, of pleasure, of ardent friendship and not less ardent enmity; and after filling me with wonder that a heart and mind so wrapped up in everything belonging to the gardens, the fields, and the woods should have been condemned to waste themselves away amidst the stench, the noise, and the strife of cities, it brought me to the present moment , and sent my mind back to what I have yet to perform about Nicholas Grimshaw and his ditches !

My sons set off about three o'clock to-day on their way to Herefordshire, where I intend to join them when I have had a pretty good ride in this country. There is no pleasure in travelling except on horse-back or on foot. Carriages take your body from place to place, and if you merely want to be conveyed they are very good; but they enable you to see and to know nothing at all of the country.

Monday Morning , 5 o'clock, Aug . 28, 1826.

A very fine morning; a man, eighty-two years of age , just beginning to mow the short-grass in the garden: I thought it, even when I was young, the hardest work that man had to do. To look on , this work seems nothing; but it tries every sinew in your frame if you go upright and do your work well. This old man never knew how to do it well, and he stoops, and he hangs his scythe wrong; but with all this, it must be a surprising man to mow short-grass as well as he does at eighty. I wish I may be able to mow short-grass at eighty! That's all I have to say of the matter. I am just setting off for the source of the Avon, which runs from near Marlborough to Salisbury, and thence to the sea; and I intend to pursue it as far as Salisbury. In the distance of thirty miles here are, I see by the books, more than thirty churches. I wish to see, with my own eyes, what evidence there is that those thirty churches were built without hands, without money, and without a congregation; and thus to find matter, if I can, to justify the mad wretches who, from committee-rooms and elsewhere, are bothering this half-distracted nation to death about a "surplus popalashon, mon."

My horse is ready; and the rooks are just gone off to the stubble-fields. These rooks rob the pigs; but they have a right to do it. I wonder (upon my soul I do) that there is no lawyer, Scotchman, or parson-justice, to propose a law to punish the rooks for trespasss .

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

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