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AUTHORS ASSOCIATED WITH PLACES.
VISIT TO BRISTOL AND CLIFTON.
THOMAS CHATTERTON-ROBERT SOUTHEY-SAMUEL TAYLOR
From Bath we proceeded to Bristol, or rather to Clifton, traversing the tunnels this time with as gay a confidence as I should do now. Of Bath, its buildings, and its scenery, I had heard much good ; of Bristol, its dirt, its dinginess, and its ugliness, much evil. Shall I confess—dare I confess—that I was charmed with the old city? The tall, narrow, picturesque dwellings, with their quaint gables ; the wooden houses in Wine Street, one of which was brought from Holland bodily, that is to say, in ready-made bits, wanting only to be put together; the courts and lanes, climbing like ladders up the steep acclivities; the hanging-gardens, said to have been given by Queen Elizabeth to the washerwomen (everything has a tradition in Bristol); the bustling quays; the crowded docks ; the calm, silent Dowry Parade (I have my own reasons for loving Dowry Parade), with its trees growing up between the pavement, like the close of a cathedral; the Avon flowing between those two exquisite boundaries, the richly-tufted Leigh Woods clothing the steep hillside, and the grand and lofty St. Vincent's Rocks, with houses perched upon the summits, that looked ready to fall upon our heads; the airy line of the chain that swung from tower to tower of the intended suspension-bridge, with its basket hanging in mid-air like the car of a balloon, making one dizzy to look at it ; formed an enchanting picture. I know nothing in English landscape so lovely or so striking as that bit of the Avon beyond the Hot Wells, especially when the tide is in, the ferry-boat crossing, and some fine American ship steam. ing up the river.
As to Clifton, I suspect that my opinions were a little heretical in that quarter also ; for I could not help wishing the houses away (not the inhabitants—that would have been too ungrateful), and the wide open downs restored to their
primæval space and airiness. How delightful must the Hot Wells have been then! and how much greater the chance of recovery for invalids, who could add the temptation of such a spot for rides and drives to the salubrity of the waters !
I had an hereditary interest in the Hot Wells ; my own mother having accompanied her only brother thither to die. It was one of the brief romances which, under different forms, most families probably could tell: A young man of the highest promise, a Fellow of Oriel, as his father had been before him, and just entered of Lincoln's Inn, who galloped to Reading, after dark, to dance with a county beauty, and returned the same way the moment the ball was ended. He had offered his hand, for more than the evening, to the lady of his love, and had been accepted. But the chill of a snowy winter night, after such exercise and such excitement, struck to his chest; rapid consumption ensued, and the affianced lovers never met again. It is often the best and the fairest who die such deaths. Every one knows Mason's fine epitaph on his young wife, in this very cathedral :
Take, holy earth, all that my soul holds dear,
Take that best gift which Heaven so lately gave !
Her faded form : she bowed to taste the wave,
The first place that I visited was connected with a far deeper tragedy, the beautiful church of St. Mary Redcliffe, I climbed up to the muniment room over the porch, now and for ever famous; and, sitting down on the stone chest, then empty, where poor Chatterton pretended to have found the various writings he attributed to Rowley, and from whence he probably did obtain most of the ancient parchment that served as his material, I could understand the effect that the mere habit of haunting such a chamber might produce upon a sensitive and imaginative boy. Even in that rude and naked room, the majesty and grandeur of the magnificent church make themselves strongly felt. The dim light, the massive walls, the echoing pavement under foot, the vaulted roof over head, all tend to produce the solemn feeling peculiar to a great ecclesiastical edifice. Even the two monuments of Cannynge, down below, one in the secular, the other in the priestly habit, impress upon the mind the image of the munificent patron to whom St. Mary Redcliffe owes its sublimity and beauty. The forgeries of Chatterton will always remain amongst the wonders of genius ; but they become l'ess incredible after having breathed the atmosphere of that muniment chamber.
The humbler buildings connected with
“ The marvellous boy Who perished in his pride,”
have been nearly all swept away by the barbarous hand of Improvement; but every one whom I met showed me some site, or told me some tradition, bearing on his lamentable story. There his father taught a little school; there he was
there his widowed mother dwelt: one person shows you the dress of the charity boys on whose foundation he was placed ; another recites to you the verses (quite as remarkable as the juvenile poems of Pope or Cowley) which he wrote at eleven years of age; a third relates anecdotes of the attorney to whom he was articled ; while a fourth produces a copy of the newspaper which contained his first successful attempt at deception—the description of the ceremonies which attended the first passing of the old bridge by the Friars, which he sent to a Bristol journal, upon the opening of the new. After this the number of the forgeries, antiquarian, heraldic, and poetical, was astonishing. Local interest was engaged and personal vanity. The beauty of the poems was acknowledged on all hands, and had, perhaps, no small share in the general credulity; for it seemed easier to believe in the alleged Rowley, than to assign their authorship to the real Chatterton. Nay, even to this hour, one of the most accomplished men whom i have ever known (to be sure, he has no objection to a paradox) professes, chiefly on this ground, his entire faith in the genuineness of the manuscripts.
Confident in his cwn powers, and full of proud anticipation, the luckless boy set forth for London: seized on every word of praise as an earnest of fortune; sent nearly all his poor earnings to his mother and sister, accompanied by letters full of the brightest hope ; and at last, disenchanted, maddened, starved, took poison, and was interred in a shell in the burying-ground belonging to Shoe Lane workhouse. He had not completed his eighteenth year. There is a story told that, a
little before his death, wandering in St. Pancras churchyard, he fell into an open grave, and seemed to seize upon it as an omen. A most painful irreligious paper, called his will, written, let us hope, under the influence of the same frenzy that prompted his suicide, is shown in a glass-case in the museum at Bristol ; and I saw at Mr. Cottle's two very interesting reliques of the unhappy writer—the Berghem (or, as he calleri it, de Berghem) pedigree, one of his earliest forgeries, curiously and skilfully emblazoned ; and a tattered pocket-book, in which the poor boy had set down, with careful exactness, the miserable pittance he had gained by writing for magazines and newspapers while in London-a pittance so wretched, as to render it certain that utter destitution, utter starvation (although, with characteristic pride, he had refused a dinner from his landlady the day before) was the immediate cause of the catastrophe.
In spite of the old spelling, the fine personification of Freedom, in the chorus of “Goddwyn” makes its way to the mind :
Whan Freedom dreste yn bloddo-stayned vesto
To everie knyghte her warre-songe sunge,
She dannced onne the heathe;
She hearde the voice of dethe;
In vayne assayled her bosome to acale
She shooke the burled speere,
And flizze alonge the feelde. Modern spelling, and a very little transposition, would make a charming pastoral of the minstrel's song in Ella :
So Adam thought when first in Paradise
Remains of the society that rendered Clifton illustrious fifty years ago still lingered there : accomplished relatives of the Edgeworths, the Beddoes's, and the Porters. The Sketcher of Blackwood, eminent as artist (amateur artist) and writer, scholar and wit, adorned the society. There too was his one picture, worth many a grand collection à picture which, when once seen, can never be forgotten—the St. Catherine of Domenichino, from which Sir Joshua borrowed the attitude of his Tragic Muse. The more the light was reduced, the more that figure started from the canvas. Two remarkable women also were there : Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, authoress of “A Tour to Alet ;” a charming, venerable lady, with her Moravian dress and language, and her habit of feeding and comforting everything she came near; she would walk out alone, and return with a train of dogs and children, expecting and receiving doles of cake and gingerbread from her inexhaustible pockets ; and Mrs. Harriet Lee, who was unfortunately absent during my visit I am not much addicted to lion-hunting, but it was a real loss not to see the authoress of “Kruitzner," one of the very few original stories which our predecessors have not stolen from us.
The most interesting resident of the neighbourhood I did, however, see. My kind friend, the Sketcher, drove me, by invitation, to drink tea at Firfield, a house used during the