WHEN someone goes somewhere, as we have learned in Alice in Wonderland, he should have a porpoise. When I went to Suffolk, I had a porpoise — in fact I had two: one led me to the haunts of Edward FitzGerald the letter writer, who also translated Omar, and the other to a forgotten countryside once the demesne of Ranulph de Glanville, who, in addition to being a very great man in his own time, — the twelfth century, — has the distinction of being my ancestor, though there is no record of his having plumed himself upon this. He was a very busy man, just as FitzGerald was an idle one, and since both of them died before I was born they were not interested in me at all, but I have long been interested in them, and so they gave me my porpoise when I went to Suffolk.
Now when you travel without a porpoise you are likely to find yourself in some such place as Miami or the Sistine Chapel, where there are hundreds of other people also without porpoises. Of course I would not belittle Miami, which justly boasts more neon-light advertising than any other city of its size in the world, nor the Sistine Chapel, which is famous for several excellent reasons. But the people that throng these famous places are very distracting; certainly the Sistine Chapel is lost sight of in the wonder of observing all these American boys in golf knickers, English boys in blazers, and German boys in Lederhosen, who cumber the altar steps, as well as the incessant army of invading women tourists for the most part in fancy dress, and hardly anybody with a porpoise. But when you travel with a porpoise it is likely to take you to places not so notoriously picturesque, or famous, or popular.
There are not many porpoises to take travelers to Suffolk. It is a county untrodden. The ardent Pickwickians do go to Ipswich, to the White Horse, where their hero by mistake got into the room of the lady with the yellow curl-papers, but their numbers cannot be very great. And Dickens can hardly be said to have commended that inn; the picture of the fat waiter with ‘a fortnight’s napkin under his arm’ did not lure me, though I am fond of Pickwick. No, I went right on to Woodbridge, feeling very excited.
I was really a very green traveler. I had never before been out of my native land, but now I had been in London a month and had got rather used to it. In London I had disembarked gingerly from my boat, but now the problem was to know how to leave. The prospect of taking a railway journey was terrifying. In the theatres I had booked stalls, but what did one do in an English railway train? To ease this perplexity I went a day ahead to Liverpool Street Station and heard what people asked for, and saw what they did, and what English railway carriages looked like, and then next day at the appointed hour, with my porpoises to nerve me to it, rat-tat-tat I entered briskly, got my ticket, boarded the train, and rode off without anybody guessing, I hope, what a really green traveler I was.
It was early April, daffodil time, and presently I was riding across Essex, seeing Constable landscapes. Then I caught a glimpse of old King Cole’s capital, Colchester. Then the train made a loop around one side of Ipswich, the goal of the Pickwickians, and then I began to grow very excited, because I now was really in Suffolk, and must soon get off and be confronted by a new set of problems difficult for a green traveler to solve, and then very quickly I was in Woodbridge.
Wood bridge is not a tourist haunt, but it is really very pleasant. It has a river, several views, a good church, and the obligatory number of half-timber houses. And up and down every street and out every road into the Suffolk countryside the thread of FitzGerald associations goes winding. He was born, lived almost his whole life, died, and was buried, all within a few miles of the station platform on which I anxiously stood with my heavy suitcase pulling me lopsided. But it was sunset time, and before I could follow any threads of this kind I had to find a home for myself.
I stopped at the Crown. The Bull was the inn where FitzGerald’s friends stopped, but I did not. know that, so I stopped at the Crown. Being a green traveler, I did not guess how good an inn I had chosen, but when the boots went about the parlor twitching the flowered curtains across the windows when the lights were lit, and I heard ladies and gentlemen talking of horses in voices wonderfully melodious over their whiskey-and-sodas after a day’s riding, sitting about the fire, I winked at myself in the nearest mirror, for I felt very good.
After dinner my porpoise led me to the bar-parlor. This was a small room with a large bulge on one side of it which was a bow window facing into the coach yard. I sat in the bulge, the bar was across the room, and all the paneling was very old, worn, and brown, just as it should be. Presently somebody learned that I was interested in FitzGerald. This seemed to create a pleasant impression. The peaceful topers who sat with me in the bulge crossed their legs over the other knee and fell to reminiscing. Of course FitzGerald has been dead fifty years, so the reminiscences were perhaps not very fresh, but one old man remembered how the poet, who must certainly have looked very solemn in his shawl and stovepipe hat which he wore even when sailing, would come out from London after one of his rare visits there, and be met by the carriage from Boulge Hall with the FitzGerald arms painted on the door, and a coachman and footman. FitzGerald would greet the servants very courteously, and have his luggage put in the carriage, whereupon the coachman and footman would drive away smartly while he, the translator of Omar, tramped home in his shawl and stovepipe hat, through the twilight and the gravel. Such talk was just what I had been hoping for. I have been a devoted, not to say loving reader of the FitzGerald letters ever since I first learned to know them; a scrap of scribbling dated at Woodbridge and closing ‘Ever yrs, E.F.G.’ is bound to be delightful; and for this reason it was certainly exciting for a green traveler like myself to be sitting in a Woodbridge bar-parlor hearing an old man reminisce on such a subject.
It was early April, daffodil time, and I, born a rangy Westerner, had been a month in London, so next morning early I put on my new tweed suit, of which I was very proud, and made for the country. Everybody knows about the English countryside, how it is combed and washen, and here I was actually in it. And best of all, the names of places were full of meaning.
I had an ordnance map, and with its expert help I soon found myself looking at Bredfield House, where FitzGerald was born. It was a noble Jacobean house beyond a noble lawn. The lawn had just been brushed; it was banded with stripes ten feet broad alternately plain and satiny green, according to which way the brush had bent the grass blades on its slow trips toward the house or back toward the road. I had never seen anything of that kind before. Then I went on to Boulge churchyard, where FitzGerald is buried. It is a small churchyard with a small church in it, at the edge of a wood, with no village to be seen. Though it was fine enough April weather to bring the daffodils into blossom, the Persian rose, scion of the rose that blooms by Omar’s grave, planted at the head of this English grave, was not even in leaf. But I knew what it was; and then, looking about at the simple, quiet, hidden landscape, I thought it was a fit last resting place for a man so shy.
Next I came back to the park gate, for in a cottage there by the gate FitzGerald lived until his middle age. He seemed to find it more agreeable to live, not with his family at the Hall, but by the gate. The cottage, though of only one story, is really not small; being a green traveler, I did not presume to go in, but looked at it very gratefully from the road. Some certainly very perfect letters were written under that roof, and even better ones were written about it from London by its homesick absentee. For its garden he bought ‘anemone roots which in the Spring shall blow Tyrian dyes, and Irises of a newer and more brilliant prism than Noah saw in the clouds’; and when a storm struck the city he thought of the cottage, and how his housekeeper ‘with red arms and face of woe will haul in the struggling windows.’ And here it was that, as choirmaster, he did his sole public job in all that long idle life: with chalk and blackboard he taught the farmer boys to sing bass to the farmer girls’ soprano. Or he would play Händel on the organ for his own fun; or read, as Agnes Repplier has pointed out, only the things he really enjoyed, in the most obstinate way; or he would go walking with his Skye terrier, in the shawl and stovepipe hat; or tramp off to eat toasted cheese with his cronies Crabbe (son of the poet), Bernard Barton the Quaker poet, and Churchyard. These were the ‘Woodbridge Wits,’ and they had a glorious time talking pictures, for one thing; for Churchyard and FitzGerald especially bought Titians, Gainsboroughs, and Old Cromes, or what they imagined to be works by these masters, and retouched and varnished them in the most reckless style. And then he was always tinkering at some literary enterprise or other, and always dissatisfied with what he did. All these things the name Boulge and the cottage by the park gate brought very vividly to mind.
But it was now past lunch time, and since Boulge seemed to be a region rather than any village with an inn in it, a kind of sub-porpoise led me to a near-by place, Grundisburgh, which name had no meaning for me, but at any rate it was a big enough village to have an inn. Now I was a green traveler, and had an idea that all English villages must be charming, which supposition later was thoroughly blasted, so when I came down upon Grundisburgh I supposed it. must be quite the usual thing because it was so charming. It was hid away in a crease in the general plateau, and was built around a large open grassy square across which a brook went winding. As I came into the village I passed a half-timber house in a garden, like a house in a fairy story. It looked like things I had seen in books, and I knew it was a good one, but I did not guess that in all my wanderings I should never find another so fine. Nor when I looked up at the angels carved in the church roof trusses, and at the carved rood screen whose saints still glowed with the wax colors of mediæval days, did I guess that I was admiring beauty I should not find matched elsewhere. I enjoyed these things deeply, but I took them rather for granted, and supposed I should find finer things in more famous places; besides, what I really wanted now was lunch.
I prowled quietly into the Black Dog, feeling very bashful; but I was welcomed, and seated in a corner by the fire in a paneled room. Every angle on the old woodwork had been rounded down by years of wear, and in this setting an American like myself must have looked very new. In fact I was treated as a novelty. The innkeeper, a coarse horsy man, his hard-working thin wife, a carter in gaiters, and a miscellaneous elderly toper with a red face, gathered around and made my lunch a social affair. They had only seen one American before: he was a soldier who had told them very plainly that they were fifty years behind the times in Grundisburgh. This had made a deep impression on them, and they had admired him very much, because he obviously viewed them from a higher plane; however, they had not followed any of the advice he had offered for their improvement.
They asked me about America; I asked about FitzGerald. Everybody was ready to be friendly. ‘You have a very odd-looking ring,’ said the innkeeper’s wife when she had supplied me with cold beef and mustard pickles, bread and ale. ‘Might I have a look at it if you will be so kind?’ Her husband recited a poem containing words usually heard only in male conversation of the freer sort, but she seemed used to it. The carter inquired if I knew anything of his nephew who had emigrated and gone to Detroit. Nothing had been heard from him now for three years. ‘Probably took off by one of them Mississippi floods,’ the carter sighed. The old toper nodded and winked, but said nothing until I was ready to leave, when he stood up and announced: ‘The next war will be fought in the air.’
This was all very genuine and pleasant. Later, when in the tourist haunts I was treated as a kind of commodity, profitable if handled tactfully, I saw what a green traveler I had been in Grundisburgh, to take all that spontaneous kindness for granted.
Meanwhile, Woodbridge remained for me to explore. I did this, and I found myself very happy at it, because to a reader of the FitzGerald letters that peaceful market town was full of meaning.
At the plateau-top outskirts of it stands Farlingay Hall, a pleasant farmhouse in the style of the Regency. Here FitzGerald had rooms after he left Boulge, and was waited upon by ‘a Maidservant who, as she curtsies of a morning, lets fall the Tea-pot’; here he entertained Carlyle, who came out to discuss the battlefield of Naseby with him, for Carlyle was writing his history of Cromwell, and the FitzGeralds owned the ground on which the battle had been fought. The friendship of Carlyle with FitzGerald is one of the gentle items in the life of that volcanic philosopher; somehow he could not resent FitzGerald’s ’innocent far niente life,’ though it was of the pattern that commonly provoked his most violent eruptions. There was an integrity about this idleness that disarmed him. If anybody ever brought quiet to his torn Scotch soul, FitzGerald did. The best instance of this was that evening when they sat in the dressing room under the roof of the house in Chelsea, smoking, and looking out ‘on nursery gardens, their almond trees in blossom, and beyond, bare walls of houses, and over these, roofs and chimnies, and roofs and chimnies, and here and there a steeple, and whole London crowned with darkness gathering behind like the illimitable resources of a dream.’ Farlingay Hall was the scene of one of the early chapters in that friendship, an ample, clean, plain sort of place, and Carlyle enjoyed his stay there. On my travels I many times found the very house in which, of all places, I should like best to live the rest of my life, and Farlingay was one of them.
Woodbridge’s market square ascends a hill, and on one slant side over a shop — now a plumber’s, as I recall — FitzGerald next lived. And presently he built a house of his own in Woodbridge, at twice the expense intended, just as houses are built nowadays; this was Little Grange, and in it he lived until he died. It is a solid brick house, and was at its best only when full of nieces; in general I think FitzGerald really did not like it very much, for nothing ever quite suited him so well as the snugness of his cottage at the Boulge park gate. But it was his own, and he liked that, and would sign himself ‘The Laird of Littlegrange ’ when he wrote to Fanny Kemble.
But there is more of FitzGerald in Woodbridge than is contained in these three dwelling places. A hairdresser’s window reminded me of the china head he paused to inspect while it patiently revolved on its little stand to show off the latest thing in wigs. Or a maltfragrant door put me in mind of how ‘three weeks ago such floods came, that an old woman was carried off as she was retiring from a beer house about 9 p.m., and drowned’ — could this have been the door from which that old sinner, despite her punctuality, was carried to a watery reward? And the River Deben at the foot of the town speaks very plainly of FitzGerald and his boat, the Scandal, for it is populated with sails to this day. Across it is a hill shaggy with old trees, and down the estuary he often went, in his shawl and stovepipe hat, reading Sophocles, and doling out the grog to his crew, for that was the only work this idler ever did on his boat. Here as elsewhere I suspect it was diffidence rather than any real laziness that made him so idle. He was persuaded that others could work the sails better than he, and so he hired them to do it.
The very post office in Woodbridge is an object of veneration. Post offices should be useful rather than venerable, of course, but such a conflux of literary jewels has been gathered into and distributed from this one that it is glorious to think of. Through it went not only FitzGerald’s letters to his friends when he was at home, or came his letters to the Woodbridge Wits when he was away, but also the shining company of Lamb’s letters to Bernard Barton.
Barton, as I have already said, was a Quaker, a poet, and one of the Woodbridge Wits. He was also a clerk in a bank. He wrote a letter to Lamb about this; he had had a small but encouraging success as a poet, and now he begged advice: should he throw up the tedious clerkship and devote himself to the Muse? Lamb’s reply, which shot back immediately through this post office, is a classic. ‘Throw yourself rather, my dear sir, from the steep Tarpeian rock, slapdash headlong upon iron spikes!’ he urged in a panic. ‘Keep to your bank, and the bank will keep you. I bless every star that Providence, not seeing good to make me independent, has seen it next good to settle me upon the stable foundation of Leadenhall. Henceforth I retract all my fond complaints of mercantile employment; look upon them as lovers’ quarrels. I was but half in earnest. Welcome dead timber of a desk, that makes me live!’ Lord Byron, through this same post office, had already given similar advice to the bank clerk, and before the weight of such unanimity he retired again into unambition and achieved, not fame as a poet, but immortality as the recipient of letters from Lamb and in his older days from FitzGerald. Even to have toasted cheese with the Woodbridge Wits is an enviable, if minor, immortality.
Through this same post office, seemingly so humdrum, came FitzGerald’s letter from his three most famous friends, Carlyle, Tennyson, Thackeray; and through it came and went that choice literary correspondence linking England with New England, his letters to and from James Russell Lowell and Professor Norton of Harvard. To its door came running young Hallam Tennyson, breathless to catch the post, for his father, a visitor at Little Grange, had seen in a newspaper a remark falsely attributed to him which he knew must give offense to his friend Longfellow, and had sat down immediately to write him a letter exposing the falsity of the report. Yet no plaque has been affixed to this building, and no char-à-bancs paused before it while a dozen tourist cameras were focused, that morning when I paid it a devoted call. All the same, it is a shrine, and I was glad my porpoise had led me to it.
My second porpoise now began to tug me, so after I had sent my heavy suitcase ahead to Yarmouth, which is in Norfolk, I set off seaward, toward Butley, Orford, and Leiston, for the region in which those forgotten towns lie was the demesne of Ranulph de Glanville, who was a truly great man. As an ancestor he leaves little to be desired. He was rich, he was powerful, he was an earl, he was Lord Chief Justice, he was High Sheriff of Yorkshire, he was regent during the absences of the King, he wrote the first book on English law, he founded a priory, he founded a monastery, and, to top all off, he died heroically as a Crusader before the walls of Acre. His King, Henry II, had a great deal of trouble: he was accused by the Church of the murder of Thomas à Becket, and William the Lion of Scotland was pestering him in the north with bloody raids. But in the very hour of Henry’s public penance at Canterbury, William the Lion was captured, and Ranulph de Glanville was his captor. When the news of this capture came to the King, in delight he jumped out of his bed, and ever after was a firm believer in the efficacy of penance, because the reward for his had been so prompt. The captor also got some credit, but he was already a great and successful man.
The only unsuccess that is chalked against the earl in history was his failure to quell the anti-Jewish riots that disgraced the coronation of Richard Cœur de Lion. Jew baiting then, as in more recent centuries, was too popular an enthusiasm to be put down by any abstract appeals to the mob’s sense of justice, and the soldiers under his command were really more interested in securing their share of the pillage than in maintaining the peace; and for these reasons matters went from bad to worse, until the pogrom of York marked the culmination of that horror, when the remaining Jews, barricaded, slit their own throats and let the last survivor burn down the house upon their heaps of bleeding corpses. It was a vigorous age, something like our own. In the main, however, Ranulph de Glanville played his part of ancestor to perfection, perhaps even too well, for none of the now innumerable army of his descendants has ever equaled that mediæval model, and this discouragement persists to the present day.
But if I cannot equal I can at least admire the largeness of his life, and for a sign of this I set off toward Butley, with a pack on my back in which the soap in its soap dish knocked merrily. It was early April and the daffodils were in blossom, and when I got out upon the heaths the whins were blossoming no less yellowly, and smelled like coconut. I was now in an English countryside that was not of the usual book kind. Perhaps it was washen, but certainly not combed. It was ragged and desolate, and the villages that once in a great while rose before me were warts appropriate to the rough surface of those forgotten parishes. The weather, too, came into key; the sea winds and the mists they drove suited the desolation only too well. However, I was young and footloose and the soap in my soap dish did rattle very gayly, and so even when it began to rain I did not mind much, but tramped steadfastly along the paths that laced the heaths, and thought how pleasant it would be to take mine ease in mine inn, when I got to it. But when I got to Butley, the Oyster was full; laborers had been brought into the district to attempt reforestation, and they filled all the rooms. Stopping in an Oyster did not have much appeal on so raw an afternoon anyhow, so I went another way to Boyton. The Bell at Boyton, too, was full. This was alarming. I was sent to the postmistress, who wrung her hands in despair over my plight, but still she could not help me, since her spare bedroom was promised to some travelers to come late that night. But then she thought of Valley Farm and directed me to it.
Her directions were perhaps not very good, or my memory of them was inaccurate, for I wandered a great way from the right road, growing more and more perplexed. The rain now had taken on an earnest long-suffering character, and dark was falling, so at the next house which looked pleasant I went up the walk and knocked. Immediately the door was opened by a lady who had obviously been watching my approach. Behind her in the hall was tier upon tier of glass bells with stuffed birds inside them.
‘Is this Valley Farm?’ I inquired, striving to remove the cap which the wet had shrunk up about my brows.
‘No,’ she replied. Sure enough, it was on a hill, as I now noticed.
The lady looked amused; I imagine I resembled a caricature of Undine risen from her fountain. But even a caricature, when driven to it, can be audacious. I begged the lady for a bed for the night. At this she looked more amused than ever, and by way of answer gave me plain directions to Valley Farm. Then she shut herself up firmly with her stuffed birds and left me outside in the rain. I felt a very green traveler indeed. Also, the water was running down inside my collar. But I marched off haughtily, as if some unseen band were playing ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,’ and sure enough, though as much dead as alive, I got to Valley Farm at last.
The house had a tumble-down air, but there was an arch in the middle of the front of it, and a very broad door, and when the door opened and I said but one word I was taken in, and was at Home.
After the purgatory of dark and cold and wet and homelessness, the heaven that had opened to take me in seemed certainly very heavenly, and my thoughts of Valley Farm are tender and thankful to this day, even though my friends the Birds no longer live there. There was a fire with hobs and a teakettle. There were two boys of my own age who rose to greet me in great kindness but without making any fuss. There were a pair of dogs who put their chins on my knees for comfort. And then there was my hostess, a little lively body, whose father (for we learned everything of importance about one another before we went to bed) had been one of those eccentric and dashing Irishmen who seem after all actually to have existed outside the pages of Charles Lever. Her mother had been a Frenchwoman. In fact she was lively, and not suited to the rural life in a forgotten Suffolk parish; the lady of the stuffed birds thought she was daffy; and so the meteoric (if damp) arrival of a being like myself from out the immeasurable spaces of the New World suited her fancy to a T.
We all had a delightful time and have been friends by letter ever since. There was dinner, mainly a suet dish, formidable, I at first feared, beyond my powers of assimilation. The pie, too, was a study. But I was in no mood to quibble over unfamiliar foods; the cane bottom of an old chair, in cream sauce, I could have munched down without dismay. After dinner we put on overcoats — one was kindly lent me — and went into the parlor. Here candles were lit on an ebony piano which was blue with cold, Douglas played, and we sang hymns, ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales,’ and other old favorites. The dogs were curled up on music plentifully strewn on the floor, and our pianist now and again blew on his fingers to draw the blood back into them so that he could proceed. I was feeling very happy, and quite forgot how close the dark and the wet were pressed against the windows. Then we went back into the warm dining room and had more tea and more talk, for we still did not know everything of importance about one another, and we were all very impatient to do this. Then I was put to bed in an immense spotless glacial bedroom, where I lay in peace too sweet to make even slumber seem inviting after that long day. I was a green traveler, all right, but I knew that I was a lucky one, because I had come among friends.
It was partly the fault of my porpoise, but also owing to the fact that it was that get-up-and-go season, spring, that next day I left Valley Farm, where the daffodils were blossoming in a riot ail through the juicy grass, and went back to Butley. Of Butley Priory only a gatehouse remained for me to see, with more coats of arms in a checkerwork over the great arch than you could conveniently shake a stick at. The Birds had told me that it was now owned by a Cambridge professor, who tutored students there during the vacations. There were some students on the premises that day, looking elegant, but thinking more likely of cricket or the binomial theorem than of old Ranulph de Glanville, founder of the house.
I went on, and by night was established in Orford. I liked this town very well. It was once an important place, but it is important no longer, in fact it is very small and forgotten; if Horace Walpole had not taken his title, Earl of Orford, from it, few Americans would ever hear of the place. Walpole never saw it so far as I know; it was not central enough to suit the Great Gossip; and its castle, though curious, is pre-Gothic, and very military, rather than any medley of turrets and traceries in the style Walpole admired and revived to fashion. Still the mere title, Earl of Orford, connects another great letter writer with Suffolk, and this pleased me. And then I liked Orford anyhow, with its beetling seven-sided castle on a mound, and the church from which the tower long ago tumbled down in a high sea wind, and its irregular market square lying between the two old monuments.
The inn was as pleasant as the weather was bad, so I stayed there, in a parlor which, since it opened off the landing, was like the little boy in the poem, neither upstairs nor down. Here I read peacefully by a sea-coal fire, wondering indifferently at the odd smell of the place until I saw that it was my shoe soles that were smoking, and that they had curled back extremely. What a green traveler to have put his only shoes in such jeopardy on a walking trip! But I consoled myself with jam tarts, baked by the two sisters who ran the inn. They brought them in in plattersful and I ate a great many. And a cobbler below the church pounded in a few nails when I showed him my shoes’ misfortune, and they served very well after all. The cobbler also favored me with the story, which is certainly very old, of the wild man the Orford fishermen once took in their nets: he was covered with prickles and knew no language, and though he was unmercifully tortured for his own good he never seemed to grasp the principles of Christianity, which all agreed were the first thing he should be taught, but instead escaped back into the sea; and here is at least one old story with a happy ending.
Next day I bid adieu with some emotion to Orford and its jam tarts and set off toward Leiston. First I followed a road, then a track, and then a path which led me into several cow yards in those black bottom lands. And then I followed nothing at all. It was a misty day, with the black field furrows glistening with moisture and the distant trees like processions of half-seen spirits; and all at once I heard overhead what I at once knew must be a skylark. Since I was such a green traveler, this certainly upset me. Scraps of poetry came into my poor noddle, and I felt very uneasy as if I might cry, but of course I did not permit myself anything so absurd, but went on. Presently I climbed a dike by the River Alde, and instantly a boatman jumped into his boat from the distant bank and rowed over to fetch me. He had rings in his ears and was young and hearty, and obviously was some character out of a book. Then, after a walk down the seashore, I got to Aldeburgh.
Aldeburgh was the poet Crabbe’s town. An interest in Crabbe has been revived lately. He was a realist, they say, but I must admit I have never read a line by him, even though he was admired in the days of his darkest eclipse by no less a critic than FitzGerald. Aldeburgh I did not think much of, and Leiston beyond it, my goal, though smaller, was even a duller place.
Next day, however, I was cheered by my visit to Leiston Abbey. This foundation, for a wonder, has returned to the use intended for it by the old earl, at least in part. It has no brotherhood, no vows, no splendid ritual; but if you, a lay person, are looking for a retreat where you can compose your thoughts among ruined but now well-kept ecclesiastical walls, where, as Henry Adams said, you can wash out the dirty creases which life is making in the corners of your soul’s eyes, why — ‘communicate with the . . . etc., etc., etc.’ and Leiston may take you in. The monks’ old chapel was immense. The space it occupied, now surrounded by ragged walls grown up in wallflowers and ivy, is a lawn with walks and beds of flowers, and in one end of it is a farmhouse, now housing those few persons who have time to wash the dirt out of the creases of their souls’ eyes, and at the other end is a small and (it must be said) very ugly chapel. Luckily the chapel is temporary. I wish I were rich enough to build a good one; no doubt my ancient sire would applaud in Heaven the continuance of Glanville patronage in that ancient place.
So far my Glanville porpoise led me in that part of the world. But now my FitzGerald porpoise resumed control, for I determined to go on to Dunwich, where FitzGerald had done some of his best idling in the days of his old age.
On the way I came through Theberton, where, FitzGerald tells, barrels of Hollands were found hidden behind the church altar cloth during the many other excitements of the Napoleonic Wars. At Theberton, Doughty, author of the Travels in Arabia Deserta, was born. A landscape more un-Arabian would be hard to imagine, for this was England in early April when the daffodils were blossoming in great style, and the new grass was certainly very green.
Then over heaths houseless and untrodden, and neither washen nor combed, with only the echoes of my own footsteps to break the great silence, and the knocking of the soap in the soap dish, I got by nightfall to Dunwich, where an enormous maidservant puffed in and out setting the table for my supper in a minute rooming place. Nobody knew whether or not it was there that FitzGerald had stayed when he came to do his Dunwich idling, but the priory walls on the hill above marked the course of his favorite walk; the sadness of the place seemed to take the old man’s fancy, that city of slow destruction, eaten into year after year by the waves until now only a village of a dozen houses remains. After FitzGerald was to come another poet, Swinburne, to write in dark stanzas of that town and its churchyard eaten by the sea, of
Shroudless, down the loose collapsing banks._. . .
Graves where hope and prayer and sorrow brooded
Gape and slide and perish, ranks on ranks.
In our day the last skeleton has been eaten by the sea, and the church — choir, nave, tower, and all — has been devoured, and the site of that tragedy is racing North Sea water.
Dunwich is a place to breed melancholy, but FitzGerald loved it, and as an old man after a sojourn there he wrote to Lowell: ‘I have at last bid Adieu to poor old Dunwich: the Robin singing in the ivy that hangs on those old Priory walls. A month ago I wrote to ask Carlyle’s Niece about her Uncle, and telling her of this Priory, and how her Uncle would once have called me Dilettante; all which she read to him; he only said “Poor, Poor old Priory!”’
Next day I walked the shore to Southwold, and rode to Yarmouth, and so left Suffolk, and I have never been back, though now I have more porpoises than ever to lead me there. But I have news of the county from my friends the Birds. When they left Valley Farm, which was not theirs after all, but only a rented place, and moved to town, Mrs. Bird put on her hat and went to the Woodbridge post office and had an interview. She told them that to forestall any errors in delivery she just wanted to let them know that she was ‘expecting a letter from Minnesota in daffodil time.’ And sure enough I wrote one, and she got it.