The Pilgrim in Devon
No region short of Arcadia was ever blessed with historian more enthusiastic than Charles Kingsley at once became whenever he touched upon Devonshire, her charms or her story; then was his pen dipped in illuminating colors, and he traced the outline of her beauties on a page that must endure until the memory of Devon lads no longer thrills the romance-loving heart. When guidebooks wax eloquent over this fair county, and dry historic mention broadens into a sweep of verbal imagery, then are the paragraphs hedged between telltale quotation marks, and a footnote points to Kingsley as the source of such just laudation. His sympathy was perfect; the light of his genius seems to brighten every golden thread in the fabric of Devon’s story ; and the traveler interested in Kingsley’s haunts can scarcely do better than to visit them with Westward Ho ! and the Prose Idylls in hand, as poetic guidebooks. Unlike many a memorable spot, this has a beauty that is all its own, and holds a peculiar power over the human spirit. Not only do the pages of its history rouse the heart to quicker pulsations by their review of the days when there were giants, but even the face of nature seems here significant. Devonshire may be “ relaxing,” as the neighbors of Bow Bells declare, with fine and almost depreciatory inflections, but nevertheless every breath within its borders inevitably exhilarates all who love a hero. The English Midlands spread out into a fair garden, beautified by the hand of man, and gaining grace from his necessities. Devonshire is all warm luxuriance, rolling waste, and stormy breaker. Its moorland wastes spread on and on, clothed only by coarse grass, heath, and furze; but its clefts and chasms are enriched by a marvelous fern growth, and cooled by clear mountain streams holding a multitude of fish in their limpid shallows. Dartmoor, like Salisbury Plain, is one of nature’s high altars, to be approached with reverence and dread. A broad expanse, waste and wonderful, it lies like a sea caught in commotion and fixed in everlasting repose. The touch of cultivation has never disturbed its bosom, yet is it a storehouse of varied wealth. The antiquary may ponder long, unsatisfied, over its gigantic mounds and rocky remains, the fisherman fill his creel from its waters, and countless sheep nibble the unfenced pasturage; but he whom it most delights is the pilgrim who fares along its ways, mindless of aught save shifting cloud beauties and the outlines of its billowing hills. What treasure-house of form and color can match the English sky? Taken at its sunniest, here arches no crystal vault of blue, but one diversified by an ever-changeful pageant made from sunlit feather-down and clouds the color of a dove’s gray wing, — glorified, nevertheless, by sapphire intervales. Such a procession of airy loveliness awakens a wondrous sympathy in Dartmoor below. Over its tors sweep the shadows, chased by a light that turns the heather to rose, and transforms the coarse grass to a fabric of warm yellow. One hollow lies scowling in darkness; and lo! beside it a hill smiles, and then laughs outright under a golden shaft of sun.
My own course over the moor led from the little village of Chagford to Tavistock, thence to seek Plymouth ; and when I set foot in that historic town, I felt Kingsley’s kindly grasp tighten upon my hand. “ Come,” he seemed to say ; “ here was set the tiny stage whereon great parts were played, as if only Olympus were auditor and judge. Come, and keep reverent silence ; read, and remember ! ”
Plymouth is a town born for the perpetual flaunting of England’s glory. It sits in well-defended pride, looking calmly over the waves which are Britannia’s own, and saying in every line of wall and fortress, “ Behold my impregnable strength!” Should you, on arriving there, confide to some inhabitant your desire for a pleasant walk, he will say, substantially, although not perhaps in the eccentric diction of one kindly woman, " Oh, the ‘O, my lady, — you must go to the ’O ! ” Half a mile from the station brings one to this Hoe, or highest part of the esplanade and pleasure-grounds bordering the water, and themselves locked in a wonder of stone outworks and coping. Straight across the sound to the south runs the breakwater, binding the waves in such beneficent yet stony fetters that they lie tranquil and hospitable before the incoming mariner. Fourteen miles out stands the Eddystone Lighthouse, on the site of an earlier triumph of engineering, at whose firmness even its great projector, Smeaton, may have wondered, as, morning after morning, he climbed the Hoe, to exult as he found the tower still piercing the sunrise mists. The tale of the Eddystone Light has been one of varied tragedy. The first lighthouse erected there was washed away, and the second burned. Smeaton’s stood the shock of wind and water for over a century, and then, having been removed on account of its insecure base, and replaced by the present structure, was set up on the green-carpeted Hoe, a perpetually honored pensioner. Companioned by it, and overlooking fortress and waves, stands, counterfeited in bronze, the hero of the deep, the scourge of Spain, Sir Francis Drake, about whose memory clings today a legendary glory, which, recited by old Devon dames at the hour when the thoughts of kid and old woman turn homeward, brings a parlous creeping along the spine even in such as are able to summon also that expression known in the older novels ns “ a skeptical smile.” Who can wonder, after reading Drake’s exploits, that Spain held him to be no man, but devil ? He had a soul perpetually drunken with belief in self and a passionate love of action ; he was one of those who do, not the things they can, but what they will ; and more than all, like Napoleon in his happier days, he had a star! His actual doings read like fairy tales ; but better than them all do I love the folk-lore indicating his place in the common mind, that afterglow sure to depict a vanished sunset more faithfully than painter’s brush or poet s pen. Was she not a prudent dame, the Spanish favorite who refused to join a water-party with Philip of Spain, even at the risk of offending her sovereign, because she feared “ El Draque,” that water dragon who, by force of his magic arts, might be anywhere at a moment’s notice, — now in Europe, now in Prester John’s dominions ? It was he who brought water down into Plymouth from clear mountain sources, by the simple process of obtaining a grant from the queen, and the good will of certain influential persons through whose grounds it must run. But did such commonplace means suffice for the popular imagination ? Not in the least. Sir Francis mounted his great black horse and rode up into Dartmoor. There he found a spring, by Sheep’s Tor. He beckoned, it followed, and, as he galloped down into Plymouth town, the Stream, a docile Jill, came tumbling after.
“And fine would have been the Diversion,” says a worthy chronicler, “ when the Water was brought somewhere near the Town, to have seen how the Mayor and his Brethren, in their Formalities, went out to meet it, and bid it welcome hither; and that being thus met, they all returned together, the Gentlemen of the Corporation accompanied with Sir Francis Drake, walked before, and the Stream followed after into the Town, where it has continued to do ever since.”
Though some give Sir Francis the mere credit of taking a contract for the waterworks, which had been previously planned by others, he is never forgotten in his capacity of Plymouth’s cup-bearer. One loving custom of the town is its annual survey of the watercourse, amply described in a programme of the ceremony, dated July, 1891, — a bit of paper which, as it lies in the hand, sets one to dreaming of that heroic past with which it forms a solid link.
“ At the Head Weir,” says this quaint and delightful memorial, “the party being assembled, a Goblet filled with pure Water taken from the Weir by the Surveyor is handed by him to the Chairman of the Water Committee, who presents the same to the Mayor, and requests him to drink thereof, ‘ To the pious memory of Sir Francis Drake,’ and passing the Cup from one to the other each drinks and repeats the same words. Another Goblet, being filled with Wine, is then presented by the Chamberlain to the Mayor, who drinks to the Toast — ‘ May the Descendants of him who brought us Water never want Wine.’ Passing the Cup as before.”
Then followed “Ye Fyshinge Feast,” provided with trout taken from the stream, and concluded by toasts to the royal family, the mayor, and water committee, and topped by one imperishable custom. For “ before separating,” says the programme, “‘Ye Lovynge Cuppe ’ will be passed in pledge of ‘ Unity and Prosperity’ to the Town of Plymouth.” United may it stand, and as prosperous as if Sir Francis yet reigned, its living dictator !
The story of Drake’s marital influence is well suited to his reputed temperament and generalship. His second wife was Elizabeth Sydenham, of Combe Sydenham, Somerset; and before leaving her in the temporary widowhood entailed by one of his voyages, he threatened her with dire consequences should her fealty waver. Months stretched on in a weary chain, and the lady, believing him to be dead, reluctantly accepted another suitor. But just as they were setting forth to church, in the midst of a violent thunderstorm, a ball of iron, a foot in diameter, fell hot on the pavement and rolled between the astonished pair. As the impartial student of history will at once believe, the wronged husband had taken aim from the antipodes, and as usual hit his mark. “It is the token from Drake ! ” exclaimed the unwilling bride. “ He is alive ! I will not go to church.” Nor did she, and Drake himself soon appeared to requite her readiness in taking a hint. Some, indeed, say that the incident occurred while the two were merely plighted lovers, but I tell the tale as ‘t was told to me within the Devonshire borders. Historians may be cheerfully allowed to have it otherwise, but even their dictum is far less to be desired than the warm if distorted memories of an auld wife’s brain.
One bit of gossip the worshipers of Sir Francis would fain consign to the lists of fiction, though it is set down by sober John Prince in his Worthies of Devon. It seems that, like many a lesser soul, the admiral was at one time bitten by the fever of ancestry, and borrowed, to speak in mildness, a coat of arms belonging to Sir Bernard Drake, head of an elder branch of the name, from whose line his own descent could not be traced. Sir Bernard naturally resented the presence of this uninvited guest on his family tree, and one day, when the feud had waxed fiery hot, within the verge of the court he gave Sir Francis a box on the ear. Thereupon, Elizabeth, jealous for her favorite as only a woman can be, bestowed upon Sir Francis a vainglorious coat of arms, all his own, indicating symbolically his dominion over the world of waters, and at the same time cunningly flouting the elder line ; for in the rigging of the ship adorning the crest was a wivern, copied from the crest of Sir Bernard, but ignominiously hung by the heels. Nevertheless, one is inclined to think Sir Bernard had the best of the matter in his neat retort that “though her Majesty could give Sir Francis a nobler coat than his, she could not give him an antienter one.”
Kingsley’s vivid description of Plymouth as it was in 1588, when the Invincible Armada undertook the demolition of Protestant Christendom, is well rounded, in his portraiture of the men who were gathered in the town to await the arch enemy, by the picture of “ a short, sturdy, plainly dressed man, who stands with legs a little apart, and hands behind his back, looking up with keen gray eyes into the face of each speaker. His cap is in his hands, so that you can see the bullet head of crisp, brown hair and the wrinkled forehead, as well as the high cheek bones, the short square face, the broad temples, the thick lips, which are yet firm as granite. A coarse, plebeian stamp of man, yet the whole figure and attitude are that of boundless determination, self-possession, energy ; and when at last he speaks a few blunt words, all eyes are turned respectfully upon him, for his name is Francis Drake.”
And there on Plymouth Hoe was he playing at bowls when a sailor hurriedly put in shore, to say that the enemy had been sighted. The English, from lord high admiral to common sailor, were tired of waiting. They had grown uneasy over conflicting rumors and Elizabeth’s weathercock advance and withdrawal, and even the leaders sorely needed the solace of that match on the green. Yet when the great word broke upon the ear of Drake, what did he reply ? That he would play out his game, since there would afterwards be time enough and to spare for beating the Spaniard. But who would attempt repeating the after story which many have told so well ? Suffice it for us to recall the folkversion of the first scene in the grand drama, wherein the winds of heaven and the heroism of earth played antiphonal parts. When the Spanish fleet appeared, say Plymouth dames, Sir Francis quietly called for a billet of wood and an axe. The stick he proceeded to chop into small pieces, which, as he threw them into the water, speedily became men-of-war; and these Devonian dragon’s teeth (fraternal and beneficent, unlike the crop of old !) fell upon the enemy of Gloriana the Great, and straightway destroyed him.
At the right of the Hoe, a wilderness of greenery overlooking the sea, lies Mount Edgcumbe, wisely selected by the leader of the Armada for his own share of the spoils. He had an eye for beauty, this Medina Sidonia ; and even at this late day, with all our sympathies enlisted on the winning side, we can but feel “ the pity of it ” that even so insolent an invader should thus have “ loved a dream,” though we smile, perforce, over old Fuller’s ironical remark that ‘’the bear was not yet killed, and Medina Sidonia might have catched a great cold, had he no other clothes to wear than the skin thereof.” It is easy to picture the delight with which the sea-wearied eyes of the Spanish mariners must have rested on this royal spot. Sheer above the dimpling water rise mountainous cliffs, crowned with a noble growth of trees, and carpeted with sweet underverdure. Mount Edgcumbe Park, where the public is permitted to wander on specified days, is a miracle of beauty. Tracts of woodland alternate with garden beds rich in color. Laurel and holly reflect the day in their shining leaves, and a wondrous giant hypericum stars the ground with bloom. The great estate is traversed by broad walks and winding paths, apparently due not to design, but to the errant will of some wanderer ; and now and again, in skirting the cliff, you may look down into the summer sea, over the greenly wooded Drake’s Island in the harbor. At happy intervals are lodge and cottage, where you may order delectable tea and plumcake for sixpence, or ham and eggs (the bulwark of England’s greatness) for another silver trifle. And if the sky, such of it as you can see through the treetops, smile upon you, and the typical sight-seer be not omnipresent, you will take the little boat again for Plymouth quay, after a dreamy half-day in the park, move alive than ever to England’s beauty and Medina Sidonia’s taste in real estate.
Were one to attempt a summary of Plymouth’s notable days and names, one would find an American tourist’s stay within its gates all too short for dwelling fitly upon associations of such magnitude. From that port set sail, in its golden days, an “ infinite swarm of expeditions.” Drake put forth from its harbor to circumnavigate the globe. Sir John Hawkins made it the initial point of his dark but masterful career. Sir Walter Raleigh’s fleet set sail thence for the settlement of Virginia, and hither he returned, broken-hearted, from his last fatal expedition in quest of the golden city of Manoa. Sir Humphrey Gilbert went thence to Newfoundland, a voyage destined to stretch on into that other, infinite journey, illumined by the burning words, “ We are as near heaven by sea as by land.” From Plymouth, also, embarked, in 1620, those pilgrims who had left Holland for a bleaker but more desired haven. Quaint and dry are the early chronicles of the town, denoting a race of tough fibre, fit associates for the mariners whose names do so burn and flash upon the page. These were men who stood no more upon ceremony than old “ Frankie Drake,” and who could give and take such missiles of dry humor as might at the present day be considered both dangerous and deadly in their effect on friendly intercourse. Some of the stories connected with the early mayors recall the candor once prevailing in the pit of the English theatres. Shipley, being meek by nature and deportment, was popularly called “Sheepley,” and evidently took no offense thereat. Farcy, who would have the world know that he was “gentleman born,” struck the town clerk for not calling him “ your Worship,” and so was dubbed thereafter “Worshipful Farcy” by all the Plymouth gamins, perhaps even with the concurrence of their toughhided fathers. Yogge, who was blamed for belittling his office by bearing his meat home from market, returned with sturdy good wit, “ It’s a poor horse that won’t carry its own provender ! ” But of all the legends connected with these robust city fathers, none better illustrates their humor and bluntness of speech than a true tale of Mayor Dirnford, who, in 1455, in church “ on his opening day,” had a fit of apoplexy. No such slight incident, however, could really disturb his Worship. He came out of it with dignity, as from a recognized part of the services, and at dinner ate Michaelmas goose, saying grimly that the fit had given him an appetite.
Of the beauty and strength of Plymouth at the present day it would be difficult to say too much. It includes within its jurisdiction the sister towns of Stonehouse and Devonport, all three bearing the patent marks of military design and occupation. Look into the Catwater and Hamoaze, estuaries of the Plym and Tamar, twin rivers of Plymouth, and you shall find men-of-war and humble merchant vessels. Go to Devonport, and there you may seek the dockyards, enticingly open to such foreigners as are favored by the gods and the admiralty. Though the days have long passed when seafaring heroes trod the streets, Plymouth will disclose many a quaint corner to such as are patient as well as curious: witness, at least, the Barbican, where one who fears not sea slime and good-natured chaff may meet the fishing population at dawn ; and also the eccentric auction which is distinguished by the falling of every bid. What lover of the past could be misled by a garnished exterior ? Yet if there he one thus “ fond and foolish,” let him in Plymouth seek out that square where so many stately buildings are congregated, and, ignoring their carven freshness, enter old St. Andrew’s Church. For there were the people at service, three hundred years ago, when a salute told the news that Sir Francis Drake had returned from the seas which “ were a prison for so large a spirit,” and drew forth men, women, and children to meet the victorious hero.
Another bit of earth where the loyal heart beats at thought of Kingsley and olden days is Clovelly, jewel dropped in a cleft of the rock, happy human nest builded close by the sea. The approach to this oddest corner of creation, past vestiges of a Roman encampment, gives no hint of the beauties on which the eye is presently to feed. The coach stops, apparently in a gentleman’s park devoted to utilitarian ends ; and leaving care behind, in the shape of baggage, the traveler must thereupon take to his feet down a steep, rock-paved road, where all tourists fare alike, be they clad in frieze or gold. Suddenly, at a turn of the way, appears Clovelly Street, descending sharply in low, broad stairs laid with cobblestones. No carriage has ever profaned this stony staircase ; only the tiny hoofs of donkeys go clattering up and down. Neddy patiently toils under sacks of coal (trying meanwhile, with gentle insistence, to “scrunch” the unwary traveler against the neighboring wall), or drags about sledges piled high with trunk and portmanteau, whose name here is legion. Flanking this declivitous way runs, on either side, a row of cottages, immaculate in whitewash, and adorned by fuchsia shrubs and geraniums. Halfway down stands the New Inn, its sign swinging across the street, — a little old-fashioned house, resplendent in old china, and kept in perpetual commotion by the influx of hungry excursionists, who come by boat and coach to flood the tiny village with admiring exclamations.
The quaintness of Clovelly is not all its charm ; it wears, too, that of a wondrous beauty and delight. Lying as it does in an earth-cleft stretching down to the sea, it is fostered and overlooked by towering wooded cliffs, and, secure in humble contentment and sweetness of life, seems nowise inferior in merit to such natural pomp and magnificence. The little street wanders, in its progress to the water; once, perhaps twice, it boldly marches through the walls of a house (itself spanned by an archway above), and then, after threading strange nooks and corners, where fishy smells mingle with the smoke which is Clovelly’s natural breath, ends at the little harbor, — that harbor where, as Kingsley says, in the season of herring fishing, so many boats set forth with song and prayer, some never to return. One scene, he tells us, would come upon him again and again: of “ the old bay darkened with the gray coldness of the waterspouts stalking across the waves before the northern gales; and the tiny herring boats fleeing from their nets right for the breakers, hoping more mercy even from those iron walls of rock than from the pitiless howling wastes of spray behind them ; and that merry beach beside the town covered with shrieking women and old men, casting themselves on the pebbles in fruitless agonies of prayer, as corpse after corpse swept up at the feet of wife and child, till in one case alone the dawn saw upwards of sixty widows and orphans weeping over those who had gone out the night before in the fullness of strength and courage.”
Kingsley’s father was rector of Clovelly during six of those years when the sensitive lad must have been very delicately responsive to new impressions. Under the mysterious spell of sea and cliff, he conned the pages of England’s naval history, learning it, as one might say, through the heart rather than the mind ; for here did he catch the spirit of those men who made it glow and burn. From Devon air, her sunshine, waves, and rocks, rather than Hakluyt’s Chronicles, was born his fiery sympathy with that heroic race who peopled the deep three hundred years ago. “Now,” said he to his wife, on her first visit to Clovelly, “ now that you have seen the dear old paradise, you know what was the inspiration of my life before I met you.” His very spirit permeates the place; his name is there a household word.
“ Did you know Mr. Kingsley ? ” I asked a woman, beautiful with health, and bearing the dignity of a sturdy character, the wife of a “ master mariner,” to whom a humble stone was erected in Clovelly churchyard. Evidently, that manner of speech was too familiar as concerned a beneficent household deity. “ We all saw him very often,” she said, with gravity. “ As soon as he came on his visits, he was in and out of every house, as welcome as a bit of sunlight on a wet day, and asking how was this one, and how was that, and had the lads got home from sea ? Ah, we loved Mr. Kingsley ! ”
His happiest vacations were spent here, sometimes as a guest at Clovelly Court, and again in lodgings in a fuchsiadecked house on Clovelly Street. Thence he sailed to Lundy, or wherever a fisherman’s lot might lead him, delighting his keen eyes and reverent soul with God’s wonders dredged up from the deep. “ I cannot believe my eyes,” was his home-satisfied cry, on settling into a welcoming nest. “ The same place, the pavement, the dear old smells, the dear old handsome faces again ! ”
The people who fill the picturesque village houses are of a noble and dignified type. Clovelly women are tall and shapely, the men bear in face and carriage unmistakable marks of thought and feeling, and the children are marvels of dark-eyed beauty. With such simplicity and directness does the body seem to give expression to the soul that one may read here, in face and demeanor, the story of a fine and striving race. Life to these men is little more or less than a daily struggle with the treacherous sea. So constantly are they brought face to face with danger that minor griefs are no longer present to remembrance, and the desire of eternal life has become all in all. Such men were their dead-andgone ancestors, who fought the Armada, and went, " grim or jocund,” in quest of the “ golden South Americas ; ” such, in endurance and rigid purpose, was Salvation Yeo, of Westward Ho! who was born in Clovelly Street, in the year 1526, where his " father exercised the mystery of a barber surgeon and a preacher of the people since called Anabaptists.” One noticeable circumstance, strange and pregnant, is that Clovelly has no young men. They are all at sea, serving their apprenticeship, to come home for the innocent kisses of a dozen joyous women waiting on the quay, or to furnish new cause for the old ache, throbbing for the wanderer who may not return.
Clovelly may he approached through the Hobby Drive, a way of marvelous beauty skirting the top of the cliff, guarded by towering trees, and bordered with a lush undergrowth of ferns. From time to time in his course, the traveler will come upon a natural window in the leafy walls, an airy space, whence he may overlook the blue sea, seek Lundy’s outline, severely simple, and in the distance the shadowy coast of Wales; and finally shall he receive the crowning vision of Clovelly herself, far below his eyrie, nestling in her flowery gorge, and drowsily indifferent to sea or wind. This road, a veritable fairy progress, belongs to Clovelly Court, where, in the sixteenth century, lived the Carys, one of whom figures so prominently among Kingsley’s giants of action. They held it till the eighteenth century, when their branch of the family died out. And where now shall we seek a trace of the gallant Will who was one of that noble Brotherhood of the Rose, founded by Frank Leigh, worthy favorite of the Virgin Queen ? Only Kingsley can rehearse his mimic history, though, if the trace of one of his forbears be cheering to the eye, the traveler may climb the height to the little church, to find a Cary’s name in enduring brass. Another point of pilgrimage on the estate is Gallantry Bower, a steep cliff rising four hundred feet out of the sea, and commanding Hartland Point, Bideford Bay, and, stretching ever outward like a weird finger, Morte Point, where so many ships have gone down, — barren and dreadful Morte, which of all places on earth " God made last, and the devil will take first. " Gallantry Bower, as Amyas says, is so named when one is on land, though you " always call it White Cliff when you see it from the seaboard.” It has its appropriate legend, for here, in a lonely tower, lived the fair lady of a Norman lord. She had a fine vantage point for surveying the world around, this victim of soft durance ! Peace to her dust, — peace equal in measure to the skyful of beauty whereon she daily looked !
To go into lodgings at Clovelly is to invite a possibility of becoming soon interknit with the life of its kindly people. In an angle of the stairlike street, almost overhanging the quay, stands a bench serving as council ground for the village fathers. There, usually at twilight, when the boats have come in and nets are drying, sits a row of grizzled mariners discussing the state — of the world, think you? Nay, of the universe itself. One bit of quaint philosophy, overheard during such a twilight symposium, has lingered in my ears, to sweeten many a tough morsel of experience. “Well,” said one of these weatherworn sea-dogs, in the tone of those who have drawn their own conclusions from the inexplicable drama called Life, " human nature’s looking up a bit ; that’s the only comfort.” And is human nature looking up even a bit, Clovelly sailor, more familiar with the deep than with human countenance, and unpolluted with the grime of great cities ? It may be so, for out of the lips of men unspotted from the world come often truths more crystalline than those of science or statistics. In the village is sold a photograph of Clovelly mariners, and one face, a humorous, droll physiognomy, at once strikes the attention. “And who is this ? ” I asked the sympathetic dealer. “ Oh, that is poor old Captain Folly,” said she, with a tear in her voice. “ He died, the other day. You must have been here.” Yes, we were there in our lodgings at the head of the street, when Captain Folly was borne past by his brother mariners in their Sunday best; wearing also the becoming gravity of those who think gently and seriously of death, not during the one hour when it disturbs them at their avocations, but as children recognize the night as the inevitable foil of day. A solemn hymn was sung, strong voices sustaining its burden, and up the street to the little church was carried the old man whose journey was finished, and who slept, wrapped in honor and full of days, beneath the flag spread reverently upon his coffin.
Midway down the street stands — or stood — another old man, whose race is not soon to be run, judging from his apparent ability to keep feebleness and sorrow at bay. He is crippled, and waits at the domestic receipt of custom, ready to retail village gossip, and readier still to dispose, in a very self-respecting manner, of the forthcoming shilling or sixpence. He is a trifle more cynical than many of his brother mariners, this aged man, the daily implication of whose life is, “ A penny, if you please,” yet he furnishes savor and spice in a godly community.
But in order to find one’s self actually near the heart of this simple folk, it is the part of the reflective traveler to attend chapel on Sunday, and not the church. Such a service, once sought out and followed, is never to be forgotten. A rough hall in an obscure corner jutting from the street, bare and uninteresting as the old country schoolhouse, is filled with worshipers, who at entrance and departure make a mighty clattering on the uncarpeted floor, and whose heart of religious love raises their hymn-singing to a resounding if strident chorus. What lover of human expression would not study reverently the faces in that lowly chapel ? Every eye fixed upon the preacher, — a man who had somewhat to say, a sermon full of hard and loving common sense, — their earnestness bespoke sheep worthy the guidance of a faithful shepherd ; not such as feed in grassy vales, but accustomed to stony ways and mountain fastnesses, to storm and night. One old man, whose every look and gesture was of the sea, emphasized the prayers, from point to point, with sonorous “ amens.” His soul drank of the waters of life, said the recurrent response, and this was his thanksgiving.
Eleven miles from Clovelly lies Lundy, from the southeast edge of which rises the Shutter Rock, terrible dramatic centre of the tragedy so marvelously described in Westward Ho! when, at the end of Amyas Leigh’s sixteen days’ chase of the Spaniard, the wind a destroying angel, and lightnings and thunder the messengers of an avenging heaven, Don Guzman’s ship was cast upon the rocks. What traveler so painstaking as to seek out Lundy will not remember at the south that cliff overhanging the shoreless cove and deep, dark sea, where blind Amyas sat and drank in his vision of the Spanish galleon, and her men “ all lying round her, asleep until the judgment day ” ?
“ Don Guzman he never heeded, but sat still and drank his wine. Then he took a locket from his bosom; and I heard him speak, Will, and he said, ‘ Here ’s the picture of my fair and true lady ; drink to her, Señors all.’ Then he spoke to me, Will, and called me, right up through the oar-weed and the sea : ‘ We have had a fair quarrel, Señor, and it is time to be friends once more. My wife and your brother have forgiven me, so your honor takes no stain.’ And I answered, ‘ We are friends, Don Guzman ; God has judged our quarrel, and not we.’ Then he said, ‘ I have sinned, and I am punished.’ And I said, ‘ And, Señor, so am I.’ Then he held out his hand to me, Cary, and I stooped to take it, and I woke.”
Lundy, in the days before steam had rendered traveling “ as easy as lying,” was so inaccessible as to provoke the remark that the difficulty of getting there was exceeded only by the difficulty of getting away. Indeed, it is said that the clergymen of five or six coast parishes once made an excursion thither, and were detained on the island over two Sundays, to the exceeding dismay of their waiting congregations, — an enforced season of retirement which, it is hoped, the reverend gentlemen employed for the good of their souls. The island is one of that brood of earth pygmies born to mightiness of garb and history. Its granite and slate defenses present an impregnable front to the Atlantic, and surging currents rage about it with a strength and fury to be surpassed only at Land’s End. But once within its rocky gates, more smiling beauties greet the eye, for its vegetation is rich in that coloring which is the benison of sea air. Here heather and furze glow in rose and gold, the royal foxglove stands stately tall, and sedum blesses the earth with bloom. Lundy has had a checkered history, ever painted in gloomy and glaring hues. It can boast remains of a primeval population, in flint and pottery, but few will care to trace its history further than the day of Sir Jordan de Moresco, its earliest recorded lord, who, in the reign of Henry II., lived there a turbulent and piratical life, undaunted by king or peer, though his bit of land was declared forfeit to the crown. Of good old stuff were the Morescos, and they fought a valiant fight against law and order until 1242, when William of that name was seized and hanged in London town. Thereafter, Lundy became a favorite resort for pirates, and was Captured in turn by French, Spanish, and even Turkish privateers. Seek its pages to-day, and you will read the tamer sequel to so bold a story : a few houses cluster at the landing-cove, a lighthouse crowns the plateau above ; the scene is one of quietude, broken only by the turmoil of nature. On the upper plain lie also the ruins of an ancient fortress known as Moresco’s Castle, forever tainted by the blot of having sheltered a dastardly refugee, Sir Lewis Stukely, ViceAdmiral of Devonshire, and kinsman of Sir Walter Raleigh, who through his means came to the headsman’s block. By this Judas-like deed, Stukely earned the royal favor, but irretrievably lost that of his peers; and being vigorously insulted by old Lord Howard of Effingham, he ran whining to James and made complaint. “What should I do with him?” queried James. “Hang him? On my sawl, mon, if I hung all that spoke ill of thee, all the trees in the island were too few ! ” But Stukely was to learn that treachery to a friend and defection from a royal master are two different offenses; for when, within a year, he was caught debasing the coin of the realm, there was nothing for it but flight before the winds of wrath. Into Devonshire, hot-foot, he hurried, and there he was resolutely boycotted; his own denied him, and the common people would give him " neither fire nor water.” Again was he swept on by fate and furies to Lundy, and, seeking refuge in the old Moresco Castle, died there, “ cursing God and man.”
Not far from Clovelly lies Portledge, now the seat of the Pine - Coffins, and in Amyas Leigh’s time the residence of that Will Coffin who made one among the lovers of Rose Salterne. The most prominent member of the old Coffin family figures boldly among Prince’s Worthies of Devon, and his life presents a pretty bit of incident which could scarcely be told more vividly than in Prince’s own diction, quaint and clear. This Sir William Coffin married, in the reign of Henry VIII., Lady Mannors of Derbyshire ; “ and residing, as is likely with her on her Dowry in those Parts, he was chosen Knight of that Shire in the Parliment which began A. 21 K. Henry VIII., 1529 : In his way to which, there happened a remarkable Accident, not unworthy the relating, especially for the good Law it occasioned : Passing by a Church-yard, he saw a multitude of People standing Idle ; he enquired into the Cause thereof : Who reply’d, They had brought a Corse thither to be buried ; but the Priest refused to do his Office unless they first delivered him the Poor Man’s Cow, the only Quick goods he left, for a Mortuary. Sir William sent for the Priest, and required him to do his Office to the Dead: Who peremptorily refused it, unless he had his Mortuary first. Whereupon he caused the Priest to be put into the poor Man’s Grave, and Earth to be thrown in upon him ; and he still persisting in his Refusal, there was still more earth thrown in, until the obstinate Priest was either altogether or well-nigh suffocated.” This little drama led to an act of Parliament absolutely fixing the amount of mortuaries, and specifying the place of payment, so that no poor man was thereafter likely to be denied his last rites and resting-place. “All which,” as Prince begs us to “ make a note of,” “ Confirms the Observation, That Evil Manners are often the Parent of Good Laws.”
It were a pert and presumptuous pen which would attempt a description of Bideford after Kingsley has ticketed it with missal script, and laid it away for all time, in library records, as “ the little white town . . . which slopes upwards from its broad tide-river paved with yellow sands, and many-arched old bridge where salmon wait for autumn floods, toward the pleasant upland on the west. Above the town the hills close in, cushioned with deep oak woods, through which juts here and there a crag of fernfringed slate ; below they lower, and open more and more in softly-rounded knolls and fertile squares of red and green, till they sink into the wide expanse of hazy flats, rich salt-marshes, and rolling sand-hills, where Torridge joins her sister Taw, and both together flow quietly toward the broad surges of the bar, and the everlasting thunder of the long Atlantic swell.” But the traveler who arrives there with the beginning of Westward Ho! warm in the memory will recall that, in the year 1575, Amyas Leigh, wandering home from school along the quay, by the taverns that lined the High Street, met there two men telling strange tales of the gold and gems of the New World, and the marvelous adventures attendant on their quest. These were Mr. John Oxenham, of whose family Devonshire traditions contain curious mention, and Salvation Yeo. That the latter was a true Devonshire name “ the bricks are alive to this day to testify ; ” for in Bideford town I saw it, not many months ago, on a prosaic and humble signboard. But though syllables may defy the lapse of time, the ancient taverns are gone, and the High Street is a busy course of trade. Even the old church, where Amyas and his brother mariners gave thanks after their wonderful voyage with Drake, has given place to a new one. Only the muddy Torridge flows daily in and out, alternating in yellow flats and dimpling water, and Bideford bridge stands proud and firm in the very outlines it wore when the lad Amyas begged of Salvation Yeo his carven horn. So old is this historic bridge that no man knoweth the date of its building. The most ancient existing seal of Bideford borough, dating from the fourteenth century, bears its portrait; therefore must it have been alive and in good and honorable standing at that day. Its origin, like that of all truly self-respecting structures in Great Britain, is supernatural. It is recorded that the river was long ago crossed by a ford so dangerous that no stones could be laid there with any hope of permanence. Finally, however, the parish priest was told in a dream that a stone had been moved to a desirable spot in the stream, and there should the bridge be built. So this holy medium of communication ’twixt Heaven and Bideford, Sir Richard Gomard, or Gurney, revealed his vision to the bishop, who was pleased to “ send forth indulgences and licenses ” in order to enlist the good offices of his flock. They, obedient souls, gave abundantly, each according to his means. Many contributed money; the rich gave lands and the labor of their workmen, and the poor cheerfully offered the work of their hands, some for a week, and others, more prosperous or more zealous, for a month. That the succeeding bishops had the bridge’s welfare in mind is indicated by the fact that announcement was made not only from the cathedral church of Exeter, but throughout the diocese of Devonshire and Cornwall, that those who would promote and encourage this work “should participate in all spiritual blessings forever.” No wonder that the bridge became so rich as to hold its head high, and bear itself with the dignity of a landed proprietor, becoming, first and last, “an inspired bridge, a soul-saving bridge, an alms-giving bridge, an educational bridge, a sentient bridge, and last, but not least, a dinner-giving bridge.”
It was to the Grenviles that Bideford owed its early prosperity. The first Grenvile of Bideford was a cousin of the Conqueror ; but the bright star of that heroic family remains Sir Richard, whose prowess is sung by every chanter of Devon’s fame, and who departed this life in a swiftly-traced but ever-during track of glory. For in the Revenge, off Flores, with a hundred and twenty men, he fought the Spanish fleet of fifty sail and ten thousand men, from three in the afternoon till daybreak next morning. But when, in that fury of battle, more than a thousand of the enemy were slain, while the Revenge lost but forty, when his boat was riddled through and through, and he himself was wounded, he would fain have blown up the vessel, and was forced to surrender only through want of ammunition. Three days after, he died of his wounds, saying in Spanish, that his captors might understand and know themselves defied to the last, “ Here die I. Richard Grenvile, with a joyful and a quiet mind, for that I have ended my life as a good soldier ought to do, who has fought for his country and his queen, for honor and religion.”
Such was Richard Grenvile, who walks through Westward Ho ! and the pages of less poetic history “ a wise and gallant gentleman, lovely to all good men, awful to all bad men : in whose presence none dare say or do a mean or a ribald thing ; whom brave men left, feeling themselves nerved to do their duty better, while cowards slipped away, as bats and owls before the sun.” Well is he remembered as “ the great Sir Richard, the pride of North Devon.”
Kingsley’s authority has been questioned for making Bideford one of England’s chief ports in the sixteenth century, though its halcyon days, beginning under Elizabeth, rapidly brightened, until its commerce with America and Newfoundland became exceeding great. French and Spanish privateers found Bideford ships such rich booty that they seized them in the very offing of the Taw and Torridge, and ironically named the spot “Golden Bay.” But such flourishing of commerce is a thing of the past, for now the shipping trade of the Torridge is conducted mainly at the neighboring town of Appledore. Burrough, in Northam, where Kingsley fixed the home of Amyas Leigh, has been for centuries the seat of a family of the name of Leigh, two of whom were seafaring men, and one, in Elizabeth’s time, “ Chief Pilot of England.” A member of a luckless expedition to the Arctic seas in the sixteenth century, he daringly continued his voyage, even though a companion ship was separated from him by wind and weather. On he sailed into the north, the region of perpetual night, and, most undaunted of pioneers, entered the White Sea, naming the North Cape by the way. Again, in an insignificant vessel, with a tiny crew, he sailed triumphantly to a point within the Kara Sea “beyond which,” says Prince, “no navigator went until our own day.” Truly, Amyas, the giant, came of a goodly race, and one whose traditions bound him to heroic deeds.
Near the mouth of the Torridge lies a delightfully clean little town, a seaside resort of some pretension. This is Westward Ho, born of the great book which yearly peoples the region with visitors. Though the town is modern, even amazingly so among such surroundings, its near neighbor is as old as — what ? Let geology tell us. I had almost said, in the ignorant enthusiasm of the unscientific pilgrim, “ as old as Adam.” This neighbor is the Pebble Ridge, whose moaning told poor Mrs. Leigh, three miles away in Bideford town, that the sea and winds were rapidly rising, and that her boy, on his way to Ireland, would not sleep that night. The Ridge is simply a wide beach heaped with pebbles, the smallest larger than the fist, and on the day of my pilgrimage lying at rest beside a calm sea and under a smiling sky. But it is easily to be guessed that when the demons of air and water strive together, these missiles of the deep, wet with ocean spume, are cast mightily upon one another, until they rattle like the fetters of giants captive. Behind them lie Northam Burrows, broad, smiling expanses clothed with coarse grass, and delightful to the British golfer, who there amuses himself as religiously as the Armada captains played at skittles on the Hoe. Is it beyond possibility that, in our own “ empty day,” some game of golf may be historic ?
When and where shall the pilgrim content himself? Shall he follow the uttermost traces of those he would fain have known, and, knowing, would have reverenced, even when the present fails to copy fair the past ? If he elect to do so, then may he seek Freshwater at Clovelly, where “ Irish ffoxe came out of rocks,” to lose his brush of self-sufficiency, despoiled by giant Amyas ; yet here he will find but slender trickling of the stream of clear water, and slight reminder, in the peaceful scene, of such shy quarry. He may religiously visit Marsland Mouth, where lived Lucy Passmore, the “ white witch,” to find it a Devonshire combe, full of every-day contentment; or he may traverse Dartmoor, and put the finger of fancy on the very spot where Salvation Yeo slew the king of the Gubbings. Time and enthusiasm must direct him, but he can scarcely be disappointed in any Devonian quest, even where he looks for castle or hovel, and finds not one stone left upon another; for always and everywhere are the changeful sky, warm cliffs, and smiling or tempestuous sea; everywhere his hope will be set in the gold of trefoil or the rose of heather. Devonshire herself has not waxed old nor faded, and in holding her warm hand and gazing into her true eyes he may comfort himself with the certainty that even so was she in those yesterdays made for the building of great epics.