F. G. K.
 Mr. Kitton was, by an interesting coincidence, present at the ceremony above referred to, and he has kindly given his impressions thereon, which appear at the end of this chapter.
 This was a joint article; the description of the works of the dockyard being by R. H. Horne, and that of the fortifications and country around by Charles Dickens.
"That same afternoon, the massive grey square tower of an old Cathedral rises before the sight of a jaded traveller. The bells are going for daily Vesper Service, and he must needs attend it, one would say, from his haste to reach the open Cathedral door. The choir are getting on their sullied white robes, in a hurry, when he arrives among them, gets on his own robe, and falls into the procession filing in to Service. Then, the Sacristan locks the iron-barred gates that divide the Sanctuary from the Chancel, and all of the procession having scuttled into their places, hide their faces; and then the intoned words, 'WHEN THE WICKED MAN—' rise among the groins of arches and beams of roof, awakening muttered thunder."—Edwin Drood.
THE readers of Dickens are first introduced to Rochester Cathedral, in the early pages of the immortal Pickwick Papers, by that audacious raconteur, Mr. Alfred Jingle:—
"Old Cathedral too—earthy smell—pilgrims' feet worn away the old steps—little Saxon doors—confessionals like money-takers' boxes at theatres—queer customers those monks—Popes, and Lord Treasurers, and all sorts of old fellows, with great red faces, and broken noses, turning up every day—buff jerkins too—matchlocks—sarcophagus—fine place—old legends too—strange stories: capital."
But it was through the medium of Edwin Drood, and under the masked name of Cloisterham, that all the novel-reading world beyond the "ancient city" first recognized Rochester Cathedral—and indeed the ancient city too—as having been elevated to a degree of interest and importance far beyond that imparted to it by its own venerable history and ecclesiastical associations, numerous and varied as they are. The early portion of the story introduces us to Cloisterham in imperishable language:—
"An ancient city Cloisterham, and no meet dwelling-place for any one with hankerings after the noisy world. . . . A drowsy city Cloisterham, whose inhabitants seem to suppose, with an inconsistency more strange than rare, that all its changes lie behind it, and that there are no more to come. . . . In a word, a city of another and a bygone time is Cloisterham, with its hoarse cathedral bell, its hoarse rooks hovering about the cathedral tower, its hoarser and less distinct rooks in the stalls far beneath. . . ."
The particulars in this chapter mainly relate to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which Longfellow thought "certainly one of Dickens's most beautiful works, if not the most beautiful of all," but a few words may not be inappropriate respecting some of the principal events connected with the Cathedral. It was founded A.D. 604, by Ethelbert, King of Kent, and the first bishop of the See (Bishop Justus) was ordained by Augustine, the Archbishop of the Britons. The See of Rochester is therefore, with the exception of Canterbury, at once the most ancient and also the smallest in England.
The Cathedral, as well as the city, suffered from the attacks of Ethelred, King of Mercia, and in 1075, "when Arnot, a monk of Bec, came to the See, it was in a most deplorable condition." Bishop Gundulph, who succeeded him, and by whose efforts the Castle was erected, replaced the old English church by a Norman one (1080), and made other improvements. The Cathedral suffered from fire in 1138 and 1179. Its great north transept was built in 1235, and the great south transept in 1240. In 1423, the parish altar of St. Nicholas, in the nave, was removed to a new Church for the citizens on the north side of the Cathedral. In 1470, the great west window was inserted. The Norman west front has a richly sculptured door of five receding arches, containing figures of the Saviour and the twelve apostles, and statues of Henry I. and his Queen, Matilda. There are monuments in the Cathedral to St. William of Perth, a baker of that town, who was murdered near here by his servant, on his way to the Holy Land (1201), and was canonized, to Bishop Gundulph, Bishop John de Sheppey, Bishop de Merton (the founder of Merton College, Oxford), and to many others.
According to Mr. Phillips Bevan, "the chapter-house is remarkable for its magnificent Decorated Door (about 1344), of which there is a fac-simile at the Crystal Palace. The figures represent the Christian and the Jewish Churches, surrounded by Fathers and Angels. The figure at the top is the pure soul for whom the angels are supposed to be praying."
Various alterations and additions have been made from time to time, the last of which appears to be the central tower, which is terribly mean and inappropriate, and altogether out of place with the ancient surroundings. It was built by Cottingham in 1825.
We pass, at various times, several pleasant hours in the Cathedral and its precincts, admiring the beautiful Norman work, and recalling most delightful memories of Charles Dickens and his associations therewith.
Among the many friends we made at Rochester, was Mr. Syms, the respected Manager of the Gas Company, and an old resident in the city. To this gentleman we are indebted for several reminiscences of Dickens and his works. He fancies that The Mystery of Edwin Drood owed its origin to the following strange local event that happened many years ago. A well-to-do person, a bachelor (who lived somewhere near the site of the present Savings Bank in High St., Rochester, Chatham end), was the guardian and trustee of a nephew (a minor), who was the inheritor of a large property. Business, pleasure, or a desire to seek health, took the nephew to the West Indies, from whence he returned somewhat unexpectedly. After his return he suddenly disappeared, and was supposed to have gone another voyage, but no one ever saw or heard of him again, and the matter was soon forgotten. When, however, certain excavations were being made for some improvements or additions to the Bank, the skeleton of a young man was discovered; and local tradition couples the circumstance with the probability of the murder of the nephew by the uncle.
Mr. Syms thought that the "Crozier," which is probably a set off to the "Mitre," the orthodox hotel where Mr. Datchery put up with his "portmanteau," was probably the city coffee-house, an old hotel of the coaching days, which stood on the site now occupied by the London County Bank. "It was a hotel of a most retiring disposition," and "business was chronically slack at the 'Crozier,'" which probably accounts for its dissolution. Another suggestion is that the "Crozier" may have been "The Old Crown," a fifteenth-century house, which was pulled down in 1864. He could not identify the "Tilted Wagon," the "cool establishment on the top of a hill."
It is generally admitted that "Mr. Thomas Sapsea, Auctioneer, &c.," was a compound of two originals well known in Rochester—a Mr. B. and a Mr. F., who had many of the characteristics of the quondam Mayor of Cloisterham. Mr. Sapsea's house is the fine old timbered building opposite Eastgate House, which has been previously alluded to.
The "Travellers' Twopenny" of Edwin Drood, where Deputy, alias Winks, lodged, Mr. Syms thought to have been a cheap lodging-house well known in that locality, which stood at the junction of Frog Alley and Crow Lane, originally called "The Duck," and subsequently "Kitt's Lodging-house." But, like less interesting and more important relics of the past, this has disappeared, to make way for modern improvements. It had been partly burnt down before. To satisfy ourselves, we go over the ground, which is near Mr. Franklin Homan's furniture establishment.
We are reminded, in reference to Edwin Drood, that the chief tenor singer never heads the procession of choristers. That place of honour belongs to the smaller boys of the choir. An enquiry from us, as to what was the opinion of the townsfolk generally respecting Dickens, elicited the reply that they thought him at times "rather masterful."
We are most attentively shown over the Cathedral and its surroundings by Mr. Miles, the venerable verger. This faithful and devoted official, who began at the bottom of the ladder as a choir boy in the sacred edifice at the commencement of the present century, is much respected, and has recently celebrated his golden wedding. Few can therefore be more closely identified with the growth and development of its current history. Pleasant and instructive it is to hear him recount the many celebrated incidents which have marked its progress, and to see the beautiful memorials of past munificence or affection erected by friends or relatives, which he lovingly points out. It is in no perfunctory spirit, or as mere matter of routine, that he performs his office: we really feel that he takes a deep interest in his task, which makes it a privilege to walk under his guidance through the historic building, and into its famous crypt, so especially associated with Jasper and Durdles.
We enter "by a small side door, . . . descend the rugged steps, and are down in the crypt." It is very spacious, and vaulted with stone. Even by daylight, here and there, "the heavy pillars which support the roof engender masses of black shade, but between them there are lanes of light," and we walk "up and down these lanes," being strangely reminded of Durdles as we notice fragments of old broken stone ornaments carefully laid out on boards in several places. Formerly there were altars to St. Mary and St. Catherine in the crypt or undercroft, but Mr. Wildish's local guide-book says:—"They seem not to have been much frequented; consequently these saints were not very profitable to the priests."
We "go up the winding staircase of the great tower, toilsomely turning and turning, and lowering [our] heads to avoid the stairs above, or the rough stone pivot around which they twist." About ninety steps bring us on to the roof of the Cathedral over the choir, and then, keeping along a passage by the parapet, we reach the belfry, and from thence go on by ladder to the bell-chamber, which contains six bells—dark—very—long ladders—trap-doors—very heavy—almost extinguish us when lowering them—more ladders from bell-chamber to roof of tower. The parapet of the tower is very high; we can just see over it when standing on a narrow ledge near the top-coping of the leaded roof. There are a number of curious carved heads on the pinnacles of the tower, and the parapet, to our surprise, appears to be about the same height as the top of the Castle Keep. A panoramic view of Cloisterham presents itself to our view (alas! not by moonlight, as in the story), "its ruined habitations and sanctuaries of the dead at the tower's base; its moss-softened, red-tiled roofs and red-brick houses of the living, clustered beyond."
We are anxious to go round the triforium, but there is no passage through the arches; it was closed, we are told, at the time of the restoration, about fifteen years ago, when the walls of the Cathedral were pinned for safety. The verger, on being asked, said he did not call to mind that Dickens ever went round the triforium or ascended the tower. If this is so, then much of the wonderful description of that "unaccountable sort of expedition," in the twelfth chapter of Edwin Drood, must have been written from imagination.
As it is Sunday, and as the summer is nearly over, Mr. Miles, with a feeling akin to that which George Eliot has expressed regarding imperfect work:—
"but God be praised, Antonio Stradivari has an eye That winces at false work and loves the true,"—
apologetically explains that one-half the choir are absent on leave, and perhaps we shall not have the musical portion of the service conducted with that degree of efficiency which, as visitors, we may have expected. Nevertheless we attend the afternoon service; and Mendelssohn's glorious anthem, "If with all your hearts," appeals to us with enhanced effect, from the exquisite rendering of it by the gifted pure tenor who takes the solo, followed by the delicate harmonies of the choir, as the sound waves carry them upwards through and around the arches, and from the sublime emotions called into being by the impassioned appeal of the Hebrew prophet.
We study "the fantastic carvings on the under brackets of the stall seats," and examine the lectern described as "the big brass eagle holding the sacred books upon his wings," and in imagination can almost call up the last scene described in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, where Her Royal Highness, the Princess Puffer, "grins," and "shakes both fists at the leader of the choir," and "Deputy peeps, sharp-eyed, through the bars, and stares astounded from the threatener to the threatened."
Upon being interrogated as to whether he knew Charles Dickens, our guide immediately answers with a smile—"Knew him! yes. He came here very often, and I knew him very well. The fact is, they want to make me out to be 'Tope.'" And indeed there appears to be such a relevancy in the association, that we frequently find ourselves addressing him as "Mr. Tope," at which he good-humouredly laughs. He further states that Dickens was frequently in Rochester, and especially so when writing Edwin Drood, and appeared to be studying the Cathedral and its surroundings very attentively.
The next question we put is:—"Was there ever such a person as Durdles?" to which he replies, "Of course there was,—a drunken old German stonemason, about thirty years ago, who was always prowling about the Cathedral trying to pick up little bits of broken stone ornaments, carved heads, crockets, finials, and such like, which he carried about in a cotton handkerchief, and which may have suggested to Dickens the idea of the 'slouching' Durdles and his inseparable dinner bundle. He used to work for a certain Squire N——." His earnings mostly went to "The Fortune of War,"—now called "The Life-Boat,"—the inn where he lodged.
Mr. Miles does not remember the prototypes of any other "cathedraly" characters—Crisparkle and the rest—but he quite agrees with the general opinion previously referred to as to the origin of Mr. Sapsea. He considers "Deputy" (the imp-like satellite of Durdles and the "Kinfreederel") to be decidedly a street Arab, the type of which is more common in London than in Rochester. He thinks that the fact of the rooms over the gatehouse having once been occupied by an organ-blower of the Cathedral may have prompted Dickens to make it the residence of the choir-master. He also throws out the suggestion that the discovery in 1825 of the effigy of Bishop John de Sheppey, who died in 1360, may possibly have given rise to the idea of the "old 'uns" in the crypt, the frequent object of Durdles's search, e.g. "Durdles come upon the old chap (in reference to a buried magnate of ancient time and high degree) by striking right into the coffin with his pick. The old chap gave Durdles a look with his open eyes as much as to say, 'Is your name Durdles? Why, my man, I've been waiting for you a Devil of a time!' and then he turned to powder. With a two-foot rule always in his pocket, and a mason's hammer all but always in his hand, Durdles goes continually sounding and tapping all about and about the Cathedral; and whenever he says to Tope, 'Tope, here's another old 'un in here!' Tope announces it to the Dean as an established discovery."
On the south side of the Cathedral is the curious little terrace of old-fashioned houses, about seven in number, called "Minor Canon Row"—"a wonderfully quaint row of red-brick tenements" (Dickens's name for it is "Minor Canon Corner"),—chiefly occupied by the officers and others attached to the Cathedral. Here it was that Mr. Crisparkle dwelt with his mother, and where the little party was held (after the dinner at which Mr. Luke Honeythunder, with his "Curse your souls and bodies—come here and be blessed" philanthropy, was present, and caused "a most doleful breakdown"), which included Miss Twinkleton, the Landlesses, Rosa Bud, and Edwin Drood, as shown in the illustration, "At the Piano." The Reverend Septimus Crisparkle's mother, who is the hostess (and celebrated for her wonderful closet with stores of pickles, jams, biscuits, and cordials), is beautifully described in the story:—
"What is prettier than an old lady—except a young lady—when her eyes are bright, when her figure is trim and compact, when her face is cheerful and calm, when her dress is as the dress of a china shepherdess: so dainty in its colours, so individually assorted to herself, so neatly moulded on her? Nothing is prettier, thought the good Minor Canon frequently, when taking his seat at table opposite his long-widowed mother. Her thought at such times may be condensed into the two words that oftenest did duty together in all her conversations: 'My Sept.'"
The backs of the houses have very pretty gardens, and, as evidence of the pleasant and healthy atmosphere of the locality, we notice beautiful specimens of the ilex, arbutus, euonymus, and fig, the last-named being in fruit. The wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) is found hereabout. There, too, is a Virginia creeper, but we do not observe one growing on the Cathedral walls, as described in Edwin Drood. Jackdaws fly about the tower, but there are no rooks, as also stated. Near Minor Canon Row, to the right of Boley Hill (or "Bully Hill," as it is sometimes called), is the "paved Quaker settlement," a sedate row of about a dozen houses "up in a shady corner."
"Jasper's Gatehouse" of the work above mentioned is certainly an object of great interest to the lover of Dickens, as many of the remarkable scenes in Edwin Drood took place there. It is briefly described as "an old stone gatehouse crossing the Close, with an arched thoroughfare passing beneath it. Through its latticed window, a fire shines out upon the fast-darkening scene, involving in shadow the pendent masses of ivy and creeper covering the building's front." There are three Gatehouses near the Cathedral, a fact which proves somewhat embarrassing to those anxious to identify the original of that so carefully described in the story. A short description of these may not be uninteresting.
(A) "College Yard Gate," "Cemetery Gate," and "Chertsey's Gate," are the respective names of what we know as "Jasper's Gatehouse." It is a picturesque stone structure, weather-boarded above the massive archway, and abuts on the High Street about a hundred yards north of the Cathedral. Some of the old houses near have recently been demolished, with the result that the Gatehouse now stands out in bold relief against the main thoroughfare of the city. No "pendent masses of ivy" or "creeper" cover it. The Gate was named "Chertsey" after Edward Chertsey, a gentleman who lived and owned property near in the time of Edward IV., and the Cathedral authorities still continue to use the old name, "Chertsey's Gate." The place was recently the residence of the under-porter of the Cathedral, and is now occupied by poor people. There are four rooms, two below and two above.
(B) "Prior's Gate" is a castellated stone structure partly covered with ivy, standing about a hundred yards south of the Cathedral, and is not now utilized in any way. There is only one room, approached by a winding staircase or "postern stair." The Gate was formerly used as a school for choristers, until the new building of the Choir School was opened in Minor Canon Row about three years ago.
(C) The "Deanery Gatehouse" is the name of a quaint and very cosy old house, having ten rooms, some of which, together with the staircase, are beautifully panelled; its position is a little higher up to the eastward of the College Yard Gate, and adjoining the Cathedral, while a gateway passage under it leads to the Deanery. The house was formerly the official residence of the Hon. and Reverend Canon Hotham, who was appointed a Canon in residence in 1808, and lived here at intervals until about 1850, when the Canonry was suppressed. Of all the Gatehouses, this is the only one suitable for the residence of a person in Jasper's position, who was enabled to offer befitting hospitality to his nephew and Neville Landless. Formerly there was an entrance into the Cathedral from this house, which is now occupied by Mr. Day and his family, who kindly allowed us to inspect it. We were informed that locally it is sometimes called "Jasper's Gatehouse." The interior of the drawing-room on the upper floor presents a very strong resemblance to Mr. Luke Fildes's illustration, "On dangerous ground." Accordingly, to settle the question of identity, I wrote to Mr. Fildes, whose interesting and courteous reply to my inquiries is conclusive. Before giving it, however, I may mention that my fellow-tramp, Mr. Kitton, suggested, more particularly with reference to another illustration in Edwin Drood, viz., "Durdles cautions Mr. Sapsea against boasting," that, for the purposes of the story, the Prior's Gate is placed where the College Yard Gate actually stands.
"11, MELBURY ROAD, KENSINGTON, W. "25th October, 1890.
"The background of the drawing of 'Durdles cautioning Sapsea,' I believe I sketched from what you call A., i. e. The College Gate. I am almost certain it was not taken from B., the Prior's.
"The room in the drawing, 'On dangerous ground,' is imaginary.
"I do not believe I entered any of the Gatehouses.
"The resemblance you see in the drawing to the room in the Deanery Gatehouse (C.), might not be gained by actual observation of the interior.
"In many instances an artist can well judge what the interior may be from studying the outside. I only throw this out to show that the artist may not have seen a thing even when a strong resemblance occurs. I am sorry to leave any doubt on the subject, though personally I feel none.
"You see I never felt the necessity or propriety of being locally accurate to Rochester or its buildings. Dickens, of course, meant Rochester; yet, at the same time, he chose to be obscure on that point, and I took my cue from him. I always thought it was one of his most artistic pieces of work; the vague, dreamy description of the Cathedral in the opening chapter of the book. So definite in one sense, yet so locally vague.
"Very faithfully yours, "LUKE FILDES.
"W. R. HUGHES, ESQ."
The College Yard Gate (A) must therefore be regarded as the typical Jasper's Gatehouse, but, with the usual novelist's license, some points in all three Gatehouses have been utilized for effect. So we can imagine the three friends in succession going up the "postern stair;" and, further on in the story, we can picture that mysterious "single buffer, Dick Datchery, living on his means," as a lodger in the "venerable architectural and inconvenient" official dwelling of Mr. Tope, minutely described in the eighteenth chapter of Edwin Drood, as "communicating by an upper stair with Mr. Jasper's," watching the unsuspecting Jasper as he goes to and from the Cathedral.
Chapters twelve, fourteen, and twenty-three refer to Jasper's Gatehouse, and its proximity to the busy hum of human life, in very vivid terms, especially chapter twelve:—
"Among these secluded nooks there is little stir or movement after dark. There is little enough in the high tide of the day, but there is next to none at night. Besides that, the cheerfully frequented High Street lies nearly parallel to the spot (the old Cathedral rising between the two), and is the natural channel in which the Cloisterham traffic flows, a certain awful hush pervades the ancient pile, the cloisters, and the churchyard after dark, which not many people care to encounter. . . . One might fancy that the tide of life was stemmed by Mr. Jasper's own Gatehouse. The murmur of the tide is heard beyond; but no wave passes the archway, over which his lamp burns red behind the curtain, as if the building were a Lighthouse. . . .
"The red light burns steadily all the evening in the Lighthouse on the margin of the tide of busy life. Softened sounds and hum of traffic pass it, and flow on irregularly into the lonely precincts; but very little else goes by save violent rushes of wind. It comes on to blow a boisterous gale. . . . John Jasper's lamp is kindled, and his Lighthouse is shining, when Mr. Datchery returns alone towards it. As mariners on a dangerous voyage, approaching an iron-bound coast, may look along the beams of the warning light to the haven lying beyond it that may never be reached, so Mr. Datchery's wistful gaze is directed to this beacon and beyond. . . ."
The sensation of calm in passing suddenly out of the busy High Street of Rochester into the subdued precincts of the Cathedral, as above described, is very marked and peculiar, and must be experienced to be realized.
Among the many interesting ancient buildings in "the lonely precincts" may be mentioned the old Episcopal Palace of the Bishops of Rochester. My friend Mr. George Payne, F.S.A., Hon. Sec. of the Kent Archaeological Society, who now lives there, writes me that:—"it is impossible to say when it was first built, but it was rebuilt circa 1200, the Palace which preceded it having been destroyed by fire. Bishop Fisher was appointed to the See in 1504, and mainly resided at Rochester. The learned prelate here entertained the great Erasmus in 1516, and Cardinal Wolsey in 1527. In 1534 Bishop Fisher left Rochester never to return, being beheaded on Tower Hill, June 22nd, 1535. The front of the Palace has been coated with rough plaster work dusted over with broken tile, but the rear walls are in their original state, being wholly composed of rag, tufa, and here and there Roman tiles. The cellars are of the most massive construction, and many of the rooms are panelled."
The Monks' Vineyard of Edwin Drood exists as "The Vines," and is one of the "lungs" of Rochester, belonging to the Dean and Chapter, by whom it is liberally leased to the Corporation for a nominal consideration. It was a vineyard, or garden, in the days of the monks, and is now a fine open space, planted with trees, and has good walks and well-trimmed lawns and borders. Remains of the wall of the city, or abbey, previous to the Cathedral, constitute the northern boundary of "The Vines." There are commodious seats for the public, and it was doubtless on one of these, as represented in the illustration entitled "Under the Trees," that Edwin Drood and Rosa sat, during that memorable discussion of their position and prospects, which began so childlike and ended so sadly. "'Can't you see a happy Future?' For certain, neither of them sees a happy Present, as the gate opens and closes, and one goes in and the other goes away." A fine clump of old elms (seven in number), called "The Seven Sisters," stands at the east end of the Vines, nearly opposite Restoration House, and it was under these trees that the conversation took place.
So curiously exact at times does the description fit in with the places, that we notice opposite Eastgate House the "Lumps of Delight Shop," to which it will be remembered that after the discussion Rosa Bud directed Edwin Drood to take her.
Dickens's last visit to Rochester was on Monday, 6th June, 1870, when he walked over from Gad's Hill Place with his dogs; and he appears to have been noticed by several persons in the Vines, and particularly by Mr. John Sweet, as he stood leaning against the wooden palings near Restoration House, contemplating the beautiful old Manor House. These palings have since been removed, and an iron fence substituted. The object of this visit subsequently became apparent, when it was found that, in those pages of Edwin Drood written a few hours before his death, Datchery and the Princess Puffer held that memorable conference there. "They have arrived at the entrance to the Monks' Vineyard; an appropriate remembrance, presenting an exemplary model for imitation, is revived in the woman's mind by the sight of the place," in allusion of course to a present of "three shillings and sixpence" which Edwin Drood gave her Royal Highness on a previous occasion to buy opium.
The extensive promenade called the Esplanade (where in 1889 we saw the Regatta in which, after a series of annual defeats, Rochester maintained its supremacy), on the east side of the river Medway, under the Castle walls, pleasantly approached from the Cathedral Close, is memorable as having been the spot described in the thirteenth chapter where Edwin and Rosa met for the last time, and mutually agreed to terminate their unfortunate and ill-assorted engagement.
"They walked on by the river. They began to speak of their separate plans. He would quicken his departure from England, and she would remain where she was, at least as long as Helena remained. The poor dear girls should have their disappointment broken to them gently, and, as the first preliminary, Miss Twinkleton should be confided in by Rosa, even in advance of the reappearance of Mr. Grewgious. It should be made clear in all quarters that she and Edwin were the best of friends. There had never been so serene an understanding between them since they were first affianced."
We are anxious to identify Cloisterham Weir, frequently mentioned in Edwin Drood, but more particularly as being the place where Minor Canon Crisparkle found Edwin's watch and shirt-pin. The Weir, we are told in the novel, "is full two miles above the spot to which the young men [Edwin and Neville] had repaired [presumably the Esplanade] to watch the storm." There is, however, no Weir nearer than Allington, at which place the tide of the Medway stops, and Allington is a considerable distance from Rochester, probably seven or eight miles. How well the good Minor Canon's propensity for "perpetually pitching himself headforemost into all the deep water in the surrounding country," and his "pilgrimages to Cloisterham Weir in the cold rimy mornings," are brought into requisition to enable him to obtain the watch and pin.
"He threw off his clothes, he plunged into the icy water, and swam for the spot—a corner of the Weir—where something glistened which did not move and come over with the glistening water drops, but remained stationary. . . . He brought the watch to the bank, swam to the Weir again, climbed it, and dived off. He knew every hole and corner of all the depths, and dived and dived and dived, until he could bear the cold no more. His notion was that he would find the body; he only found a shirt-pin sticking in some mud and ooze."
Our failure to identify Cloisterham Weir exhibits another instance where, for the purposes of the story, an imaginary place is introduced. To Mr. William Ball is due the credit for subsequently suggesting that Snodland Brook and Snodland Weir may have possibly been in Dickens's mind in originating Cloisterham Weir; so we tramped over to inspect them. Near the village, the brook (or river, for it is of respectable width) is turbid and shallow, but higher up—a mile or so—we found it clearer and deeper, and we heard from some labourers, whom we saw regaling themselves by the side of a hayrick, that a local gentleman had some years ago been in the habit of bathing in the stream all the year round.
The ancient Church of St. Nicholas (1423) is on the north side of the Cathedral. In front of it is a narrow strip of ground, enclosed with iron railings, formerly the burial-ground of the Church, but now disused, referred to in Edwin Drood as "a fragment of a burial-ground in which an unhappy sheep was grazing." In this enclosure, which is neatly kept, there are a weeping willow at each end, and in the centre an exquisite specimen of the catalpa tree (Catalpa syringifolia), the floral ornament of the Cathedral precincts. At the time of our visit it is in perfect condition, the large cordate bright green leaves, and the massive trusses of labiate flowers of white, yellow, and purple colours (not unlike those of the Impatiens noli-me-tangere balsam, only handsomer) are worth walking miles to see. It is a North American plant, and in its native country sometimes grows to a height of forty feet. The specimen here described is about twenty feet high, and was planted about fifteen years ago.
On the opposite side of the way is the old cemetery of St. Nicholas' Church, originally part of the Castle moat, but which was converted to its present purpose about half a century ago. This quiet resting-place of the dead has intense interest for the lover of Dickens, as it was here that he desired to be buried; and his family would certainly have carried his wishes into effect, but that the place had been closed for years and no further interments were allowed. Pending other arrangements at Shorne, an admirable suggestion was made in the Times, which speedily found favour with the nation in its great affection for him, namely, that he should rest in Westminster Abbey; and, the Dean of Westminster promptly and wisely responding to the suggestion, it was at once carried into effect.
As we pause, and look again and again at the sheltered nook in the old cemetery sanctified by his memory, and adorned by rich evergreens and other trees, among which the weeping willow and the almond are conspicuous, we quite understand and sympathize with Dickens's love for such a calm and secluded spot.
The Dean and Chapter of Rochester, it will be recollected, were anxious that the great novelist's remains should be placed in or near their Cathedral, and that wish might have been gratified, except, as just explained, that the public decreed otherwise. However, they sanctioned the erection, by the executors, of a brass, which enriches the wall of the south transept of the edifice, and which has the following inscription:—
The unfinished novel of Edwin Drood, which, as we have seen, is so inseparably connected with Rochester Cathedral, has been finished by at least half a dozen authors, probably to their own satisfaction; but it is a hard matter to the reader to struggle through any one of them. However, there is a little brochure in this direction which we feel may here be appropriately noticed. It is called, Watched by the Dead: A Loving Study of Charles Dickens's half-told Tale, 1887, and was written by R. A. Proctor, F.R.A.S., the Astronomer, whose untimely death from fever in America was announced after our return from our week's tramp. The author had evidently studied the matter both lovingly and attentively, and starts with the assumption that it is an example of what he calls "Dickens's favourite theme," which more than any other had a fascination for him, and was apparently regarded by him as likely to be most potent in its influence on others. It was that of "a wrong-doer watched at every turn by one of whom he has no suspicion, for whom he even entertains a feeling of contempt," and Mr. Proctor has certainly evolved a very suggestive and not improbable conclusion to the story. Instances of Dickens's favourite theme are adduced from Barnaby Rudge, where Haredale, unsuspected, steadily waits and watches for Rudge, till, after more than twenty years, "At last! at last!" he cries, as he captures his brother's murderer on the very spot where the murder had been committed; from The Old Curiosity Shop, where Sampson and Sally Brass are watched by the Marchioness—their powerless victim as they supposed, and by whom their detection is brought about; from Nicholas Nickleby, where Ralph Nickleby is watched by Brooker; and from Dombey and Son, where Dombey is watched by Carker, and he in turn is watched by good Mrs. Brown and her unhappy daughter. Instances of this kind also appear in David Copperfield, Bleak House, and Little Dorrit.
Reasoning from similar data, Mr. Proctor concludes that Jasper was watched by Edwin Drood in the person of Datchery, and thus he was to have been tracked remorselessly "to his death by the man whom he supposed he had slain." The denouement as regards the other characters seems also not improbable. Rosa Bud was to have married Lieutenant Tartar, and Crisparkle, Helena Landless. Neville was to have died, but not before he had learned to understand the change which Edwin's character had undergone. As to Edwin Drood himself, "purified by trial, strengthened though saddened by his love for Rosa," Edwin would have been one of those characters Dickens loved to draw—a character entirely changed from a once careless, almost trivial self, to depth and earnestness. "All were to join in changing the ways of dear old Grewgious from the sadness and loneliness of the earlier scenes" in the story, "to the warmth and light of that kindly domestic life for which, angular though he thought himself, his true and genial nature fitted him so thoroughly." This attempt to solve The Mystery of Edwin Drood will amply repay perusal. It was probably one of the last works of this very able and versatile author.
* * * * *
It is right to state that Mr. Luke Fildes, R.A., the illustrator of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, with whom we have had the pleasure of an interview, entirely rejects this theory. He does not favour the idea that Datchery is Edwin Drood; his opinion is that the ingenuous and kind-hearted Edwin, had he been living, would never have allowed his friend Neville to continue so long under the grave suspicion of murder. Nay more: he is convinced that Dickens intended that Edwin Drood should be killed by his uncle; and this opinion is supported by the fact of the introduction of a "large black scarf of strong close-woven silk," which Jasper wears for the first time in the fourteenth chapter of the story, and which was likely to have been the means of death, i. e. by strangulation. Mr. Fildes said that Dickens seemed much surprised when he called his attention to this change of dress—very noticeable and embarrassing to an artist who had studied the character—and appeared as though he had unintentionally disclosed the secret. He further stated that it was Dickens's intention to take him to a condemned cell in Maidstone or some other gaol, in order "that he might make a drawing," "and," said Dickens, "do something better than Cruikshank;" in allusion, of course, to the famous drawing of "Fagin in the condemned cell." "Surely this," remarked our informant, "points to our witnessing the condemned culprit Jasper in his cell before he met his fate."
Mr. Fildes spoke with enthusiasm of the very great kindness and consideration which he received from Dickens, and the pains he took to introduce his young friend to the visitors at Gad's Hill, and in London at Hyde Park Place, who were his seniors. He was under an engagement to visit Dickens,—had his portmanteau packed in fact, almost ready to start on his journey—when he saw to his amazement the announcement of his death in the newspapers—and it was a very great shock to him. Not long afterwards, Mr. Fildes said, the family, with much kind thoughtfulness, renewed the invitation to him to stay a few days at Gad's Hill Place, and during that time he made the imperishable drawing of "The Empty Chair."
Bearing in mind the above circumstances coming from so high an authority, a missing link has been supplied, but—The Mystery of Edwin Drood is still unsolved!
 It is interesting to record that the foundations of this Church were met with for the first time, in restoring the west front of the Cathedral, in 1889.
 This was written in 1888; on a subsequent visit to Rochester we were sorry to find that the frost had made sad havoc with this beautiful tree.
 Mr. Charles Dickens informs me that Mr. Fildes is right, and that Edwin Drood was dead. His (Mr. Dickens's) father told him so himself.
RICHARD WATTS'S CHARITY, ROCHESTER.
"Strictly speaking, there were only six Poor Travellers; but being a Traveller myself, though an idle one, and being withal as poor as I hope to be, I brought the number up to seven. . . . I, for one, am so divided this night between fact and fiction, that I scarce know which is which."—The Seven Poor Travellers.
THE most unique Charity ever described in fiction, or founded on fact, well deserves a few pages to be devoted to a record of its interesting history and present position. We therefore occupy a short time in examining it on Thursday morning, before our visit to the Marshes.
Except for The Seven Poor Travellers, which was the title of the Christmas Number of Household Words issued in 1854, it is possible that few beyond "the ancient city" would ever have heard, or indeed have cared to hear, anything about the Worshipful Master Richard Watts or his famous Charity; now, as all the world knows, it is a veritable "household word" to readers and admirers of Dickens. In the narrative, he, as the first Traveller, is supposed to have visited Rochester, and passed the evening with the six Poor Travellers, and thus to have made the seventh. After hearing the story of the Charity "from the decent body of a wholesome matronly presence" (this was Mrs. Cackett, a former matron, who is said to have been very much astonished at her appearance in the drama of The Seven Poor Travellers, which she subsequently witnessed at the Rochester Theatre), he obtains permission to treat the Travellers to a hot supper. The inn at which the first Traveller stayed was doubtless our old acquaintance, the Bull, "where the window of his adjoining bedroom looked down into the Inn yard, just where the lights of the kitchen redden a massive fragment of the Castle wall." Here was brewed the "wassail" contained in the "brown beauty," the "turkey" and "beef" roasted, and the "plum-pudding" boiled. As Mr. Robert Langton says, "the account of the treat to the poor Travellers is of course wholly fictitious, although it is accepted as sober truth by many people, both in Rochester and elsewhere."
It is not our purpose to criticize the seven pretty stories which make up this Christmas Number, part of the first of which only relates to Watts's Charity; but we will venture to affirm that the concluding portion of that story, referring to "Richard Doubledick," "who was a Poor Traveller with not a farthing in his pocket, and who came limping down on foot to this town of Chatham," is one of the most touching instances of Christian forgiveness ever recorded, and hardened indeed must he be who reads it with dry eyes.
To what extent Dickens himself was affected by this beautiful tale, is shown by the following extract from a letter addressed by him, on 22nd December, 1854, to the late Mr. Arthur Ryland, formerly Mayor of Birmingham, now treasured by his widow, Mrs. Arthur Ryland, who kindly allowed a copy to be taken:—
"What you write with so much heartiness of my first Poor Traveller is quite delightful to me. The idea of that little story obtained such strong possession of me when it came into my head, that it cost me more time and tears than most people would consider likely. The response it meets with is payment for anything."
It is also interesting to record that many years afterwards Mr. Ryland read this story at one of the Christmas gatherings of the Birmingham and Midland Institute, and subsequently received from an unknown correspondent—Sergeant A——, of the 106th Light Infantry, then stationed at Umballa, East Indies, who had noticed an account of the reading in a newspaper—a letter under date of 15th July, 1870, asking to be favoured with a copy of the story; "for," said the writer, "we have just started a Penny Reading Society (if I may call it so), and I'm sure that story would be the means of reclaiming many men from their vices—I mean drinking and low company." The story was of course sent, and Mr. Ryland subsequently communicated the circumstances to the present Mr. Charles Dickens, who replied—"I wish my dear father could have seen the sergeant's letter; it would have pleased him, I am sure."
As we proceed along the High Street, on the north side towards Chatham, a walk of only a few yards from the Bull brings us to a curious Tudor stone-built house of two stories, with latticed windows and three-pointed gables. Under a lamp in the centre, which is over the "quaint old door"—the door-sill itself being (as is usual with some old houses) a little below the street, so that we drop by a step or two into the entrance-hall—is a tablet containing the following inscription:—
(CENTRE.) RICHARD WATTS, ESQUIRE, by his Will dated 22nd August, 1579, founded this Charity for Six Poor Travellers, who, not being Rogues or Proctors, May receive gratis for one Night Lodging, Entertainment, and Fourpence each.
"In testimony of his munificence, in honour of his memory, and inducement to his example, the Charitable Trustees of this City and Borough have caused this stone to be renewed and inscribed, A.D. 1865."
And on the left and right-hand sides respectively of the preceding appear smaller tablets, with the following inscriptions:—
(LEFT.) The Charitable Trustees of this City and Borough appointed by the Lord High Chancellor, 16 December, 1836, are to see this Charity executed.
(RIGHT.) Pagitt Arms. Somers Thomas Pagitt, second husband of Mary, Daughter of Thomas Somers of Halstow, Widow of Richard Watts, Deceased A.D. 1599.
We enter the old-fashioned little parlour, or office, on the left-hand side, "warm in winter and cool in summer. It has a look of homely welcome and soothing rest. It has a remarkably cosy fireside, the very blink of which, gleaming out into the street upon a winter's night, is enough to warm all Rochester's heart." The matron receives us politely, and shows us two large books of foolscap size with ruled columns, one of these containing a record of the visitors to the Charity, and the other a list of the recipients thereof. A little pleasantry is caused by one of us entering his name in the wrong book, but this mistake is promptly rectified by the matron, who informs us that we are scarcely objects for relief as "Poor Travellers." She then kindly repeats to us the two legends respecting the origin of the Charity, the first of which is tolerably well known, but the other is less familiar. Before recording these, it may be well to give an extract from the will of Master Richard Watts (a very curious and lengthy document), which was industriously hunted up by the late Mr. Charles Bullard, author of the Romance of Rochester, and by him contributed to the Rochester and Chatham Journal, of which it fills a whole column.
The will (dated, as previously stated, August 22nd, 1579) directs, inter alia, that "First the Alms-house already erected and standing beside the Markett Crosse, within the Citty of Rochester aforesaid, which Almshouses my Will Purpose and Desire is that there be reedified added and provided with such Roomes as be there already provided Six Severall Roomes with Chimneys for the Comfort placeing and abideing of the Poore within the said Citty, and alsoe to be made apt and convenient places therein for Six good Matrices or Flock Bedds and other good and sufficient Furniture to harbour or lodge in poore Travellers or Wayfareing Men being noe Common Rogues nor Proctors, and they the said Wayfareing Men to harbour and lodge therein noe longer than one Night unlesse Sickness be the farther Cause thereof and those poore Folkes there dwelling shall keepe the House sweete make the Bedds see to the Furniture keepe the same sweete and courteously intreate the said poore Travellers and to every of the said poore Travellers att their first comeing in to have fourpence and they shall warme them at the Fire of the Residents within the said House if Need be."
The reason for the exception in the testator's will as regards rogues is sufficiently obvious, and therefore all the point of this singular bequest lies in the word "Proctors." Who were they? One of the legends has it that the obsolete word "Proctors" referred to certain sturdy mendicants who swarmed in the south of England, and went about extracting money from the charitable public under the pretence of collecting "Peter's Pence" for the Pope; or, as the compiler of Murray's Handbook to the County of Kent suggests, "were probably the bearers of licences to collect alms for hospitals," etc. Possibly the worthy Master Richard Watts objected to the levying of this blackmail; or he may in his walks have been subjected to the proctors' importunities, and consequently in his will rigorously debarred them in all futurity from any share in his Charity.
The other legend is that Master Watts, being grievously sick and sore to die, sent for his lawyer, who in those days acted as proctor as well,—Steerforth in David Copperfield calls the proctor "a monkish kind of attorney,"—and bade him prepare his will according to certain instructions. The will was made, but not in the manner directed, and subsequently, on the testator regaining his health, he discovered the fraud which the crafty lawyer or proctor had tried to perpetrate—which was, in fact, to make himself the sole legatee. In his just indignation he made another will, and in it for ever excluded the fraternity of proctors from benefiting thereby. The reader is at liberty to accept whichever of the two legends he chooses. It is right to say that Mr. Roach Smith utterly rejects the second story. He says proctors were simply rogues, although some of them may have been licensed.
The following is a foot-note to Fisher's History and Antiquities of Rochester and its Environs, MDCCLXXII.
"It is generally thought that the reason of Mr. Watts's excluding proctors from the benefit of the Charity, was that a proctor had been employed to make his will, whereby he had given all the estates to himself; but I am inclined to believe that the word proctor is derived from procurator, who was an itinerant priest, and had dispensations from the Pope to absolve the subjects of this realm from the oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth, in whose reign there were many such priests."
When the identity of Miss Adelaide Anne Procter, the gifted author of the pure and pathetic Legends and Lyrics (who had been an anonymous contributor to Household Words for some time under the nom de plume of "Mary Berwick"), became known to Charles Dickens, he sent her a charming and kindly letter of congratulation and appreciation, dated 17th December, 1854 (just at the time that the Christmas stories of the Seven Poor Travellers were published), which thus concludes:—
"You have given me so much pleasure, and have made me shed so many tears, that I can only think of you now in association with the sentiment and grace of your verses. Pray accept the blessing and forgiveness of Richard Watts, though I am afraid you come under both his conditions of exclusion."
We are informed that the original bequest of the testator was only L36 16s. 8d. per annum, being the rent of land; but now, owing to the improved letting of the land, for building and other purposes, the Revenues of the Charity are upwards of L4,000 per annum. The "fourpence" of the foundation would be equal to some three shillings and fourpence of our money. The trustees, about sixteen in number,—one of whom has filled the office for fifty years—have very wisely and prudently obtained an extension of their powers; and the Court of Chancery have twice (in 1855 and 1886) sanctioned schemes for the administration of the funds, which have largely benefited Rochester in many ways. As witness of this, there are a series of excellent almshouses on the Maidstone Road (which cost about L6,000), with appropriate entrance-gates and gardens, endowed for the support and maintenance of townsmen and townswomen. We subsequently go into several of the rooms, all beautifully clean, and in most cases tastefully decorated by the inmates with a few pictures, prints, and flowers, and find that the present occupants are ten almsmen and six women. We have a chat with one of the almsmen,—a hearty old man, once the beadle of St. Margaret's Church,—who rejoices in the name of Peter Weller, and whom we find to be well up in his Pickwick. There are a resident head-nurse and three other resident nurses in the establishment, who occasionally go out to nurse the sick in the city. In addition to these almshouses, a handsome new hospital has been erected in the New Road, and partly endowed (L1,000 a year) out of the funds. Contributions are also made annually from the same source towards the support of the Public Baths, and for apprenticing deserving lads. Such is the development of this remarkable Charity.
The matron calls our attention to many interesting names in the Visitors' book. Under date of the 11th May, 1854, are the signatures, in good bold writing, of Charles Dickens and Mark Lemon; and in subsequent entries, extending over many years, appear the names of Wilkie Collins, W. H. Wills, W. G. Wills, Walter Besant, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, J. Henry Shorthouse, Augustus J. C. Hare, and other well-known litterateurs. As usual, there are also numerous names of Americans, including those of Miss Mary Anderson and party.
There are many curious remarks recorded in this book, such as an entry dated 26th June, 1857, which says:—"Tossed by, and out of the Bull with a crumpled horn, as no one would lend me five shillings, therefore obliged to solicit the benefit of this excellent charity." There is an admirable testimony in Latin, by the late Bishop of Lincoln, Dr. Wordsworth, to the usefulness of the institution, which, dated 23rd August, 1883, is as follows:—"Esto perpetua obstantibus Caritatis Commissionariis." His Lordship's remark was probably in allusion to the fact that the Charity Commissioners were (as we were afterwards informed) inclined, some time ago, to abolish the Charity, but this proceeding was stoutly and successfully resisted by the trustees. But the most gratifying records which we see in the book consist of several entries by recipients of the Charity themselves, who have subsequently come again after prosperous times in the capacity of visitors, and thus testified to the benefits received. Here is one:—"Having once enjoyed the Charity, I wish it a long life."
A clerk has the responsibility of making a careful selection of six from the number of applicants, and this appears to be no light task, inasmuch as the "prescribed number of Poor Travellers are forthcoming every night from year's end to year's end," and sometimes amount to fifty in a day. In selecting the persons to be admitted, care is taken that, unless under special circumstances, the same person be not admitted for more than one night, and in no case for more than two consecutive nights. A glance over the register shows that the names include almost all trades and occupations; and, as regards the fact of a great many coming from Kentish towns, Dartford, Greenwich, Canterbury, Maidstone, etc., we are informed, in reply to our enquiry, that this is no criterion of the real residence, because the place where the traveller last lodged is always entered. The matron told us a story of a clever attempt to obtain admission by a Poor Traveller "with a tin whistle and very gentlemanly hands," who subsequently turned out to be a reporter from the Echo, in which paper there afterwards appeared an account of the Charity, called On Tramp by an Amateur.
We are shown over the premises—scrupulously neat and clean—and observe that there are excellent lavatories with foot-pans, and a pair of slippers provided for each recipient. We afterwards see the six Poor Travellers who have had their supper, and are comfortably smoking their pipes in a snug room, and we have a pleasant and interesting chat with them. They are much above the condition of ordinary tramps, and are lodged in six separate bedrooms, or "dormitories" which open out of a gallery at the back part of the building, a very curious structure, remaining just as it was in the days of Queen Elizabeth. For supper, each man is allowed half a pound of cooked meat, a pound of bread, and half-a-pint of porter, and receives fourpence in money on leaving. It is right to state that we heard complaints in the city relating to the evil effects of a number of poor travellers being attracted to the Charity daily, when but a few can obtain relief.
Respecting the Worshipful Master Richard Watts himself very little is known, except that he was appointed by Queen Elizabeth in 1560 to be the surveyor and clerk of the works for the building of Upnor Castle; that he was paymaster to the Wardens of Rochester Bridge for some years previously; that he was recorder of Rochester, and represented the city in Parliament from 1563 to 1571, and that he resided at "Satis House," which stood on the site of the modern residence bearing the same name, now occupied by Mrs. Booth, a little to the south of the Cathedral, but which must not, however, be confounded with the Satis House of Great Expectations, this latter, as has been previously explained, being identical with Restoration House, in Crow Lane. When Queen Elizabeth visited Rochester in 1573, Watts had the honour of entertaining Her Majesty there, on the last day of her residence in "the ancient city"; and to his expressions of regret at having no better accommodation to offer, the Queen was pleased generously to reply, "Satis," by which name the house has ever since been known. Estella, in Great Expectations, gives another view of the origin of the name. She says:—"Its other name was Satis; which is Greek, or Latin, or Hebrew, or all three—or all one to me—for enough: but it meant more than it said. It meant, when it was given, that whoever had this house, could want nothing else. They must have been easily satisfied in those days, I should think." Archbishop Longley was born there in 1794.
There is a monument to the proctor-hating philanthropist on the wall of the south transept of the Cathedral over the brass to Charles Dickens, surmounted by a very curious painted marble half-figure effigy with flowing beard, of "worthy Master Richard starting out of it, like a ship's figurehead." Underneath is the following epitaph:—
Sacred to the Memory of Richard Watts, Esq., a principal Benefactor to this City, who departed this life Sept. 10, 1579, at his Mansion house on Bully Hill, called SATIS (so named by Q. ELIZABETH of glorious memory), and lies interr'd near this place, as by his Will doth plainly appear. By which Will, dated Aug. 22, and proved Sep. 25, 1579, he founded an Almshouse for the relief of poor people and for the reception of six poor Travelers every night, and for imploying the poor of this City.
* * * * *
The Mayor and Citizens of this City, in testimony of their Gratitude and his Merit, have erected this Monument, A.D. 1736. RICHARD WATTS, ESQ., then Mayor.
Over and over again, in the various roads and lanes which we traverse, in the county famous for "apples, cherries, hops, and women," we have ample opportunities of verifying the experience of Dickens, and indeed of many other observers (including David Copperfield, who met numbers of "ferocious-looking ruffians"), as to the prevalence of tramps, not all of whom appear eligible as recipients of Watts's Charity! Our fraternity seems to be ubiquitous, and had we the purse of Fortunatus, it would hardly suffice to satisfy their requirements. What a wonderfully thoughtful, descriptive, and exhaustive chapter is that on "Tramps" in The Uncommercial Traveller! We believe Rochester and Strood Hill must have been in Dickens's mind when he penned it. Every species and every variety of tramp is herein described,—The surly Tramp, The slinking Tramp, The well-spoken young-man Tramp, The John Anderson Tramp, Squire Pouncerby's Tramp, The show Tramp, The educated Tramp, The tramping Soldier, The tramping Sailor, The Tramp handicraft man, Clock-mending Tramps, Harvest Tramps, Hopping Tramps and Spectator Tramps—but perhaps the most amusing of all is the following:—
"The young fellows who trudge along barefoot, five or six together, their boots slung over their shoulders, their shabby bundles under their arms, their sticks newly cut from some roadside wood, are not eminently prepossessing, but are much less objectionable. There is a tramp-fellowship among them. They pick one another up at resting stations, and go on in companies. They always go at a fast swing—though they generally limp too—and there is invariably one of the company who has much ado to keep up with the rest. They generally talk about horses, and any other means of locomotion than walking: or, one of the company relates some recent experiences of the road—which are always disputes and difficulties. As for example. So as I'm a standing at the pump in the market, blest if there don't come up a Beadle, and he ses, 'Mustn't stand here,' he ses. 'Why not?' I ses. 'No beggars allowed in this town,' he ses. 'Who's a beggar?' I ses. 'You are,' he ses. 'Who ever see me beg? Did you?' I ses. 'Then you're a tramp,' he ses. 'I'd rather be that than a Beadle,' I ses. (The company express great approval.) 'Would you?' he ses to me. 'Yes, I would,' I ses to him. 'Well,' he ses, 'anyhow, get out of this town.' 'Why, blow your little town!' I ses, 'who wants to be in it? Wot does your dirty little town mean by comin' and stickin' itself in the road to anywhere? Why don't you get a shovel and a barrer, and clear your town out o' people's way?' (The company expressing the highest approval and laughing aloud, they all go down the hill.)"
It is worthy of consideration, and it is probably more than a mere coincidence, to observe that some of the reforms which have been effected in the management of the now munificent revenues of Richard Watts's Charity were instigated as a sequence to the appearance of Dickens's imperishable stories, published under the title of The Seven Poor Travellers. The Rev. Robert Whiston, with whom we chatted on the subject, is of opinion that the late Lord Brougham is entitled to the credit for reforms in this and other charities.
AN AFTERNOON AT GAD'S HILL PLACE.
"It was just large enough, and no more; was as pretty within as it was without, and was perfectly arranged and comfortable."—Little Dorrit.
"This has been a happy home. . . . I love it. . . ."—The Cricket on the Hearth.
A NEVER-TO-BE-FORGOTTEN day was Saturday, the twenty-fifth of August, 1888, a day remarkable, as were many of the closing days of the summer of that year, for its bright, sunny, and cheerful nature. The sky was a deep blue—usually described as an Italian sky—broken only by a few fleecy, cumulus clouds, which served to bring out more clearly the rich colour of the background. There was a fine bracing air coming from the north-west, for which the county of Kent is famous. Truly an enjoyable day for a holiday! and one that Dickens himself would have loved to describe. So after a desultory stroll about the streets of Rochester, one of many delightful strolls, we make our first outward tramp, and that of course to Gad's Hill. By the way, much attention has been devoted to the consideration of the derivation of the name, "Gad's Hill." It is no doubt a corruption of "God's Hill," of which there are two so-called places in the county, and there is also a veritable "God's Hill" a little further south, in the Isle of Wight.
Crossing Rochester Bridge, we enter the busy town of Strood, pass through its long thoroughfare, go up the Dover Road,—which was the ancient Roman military road afterwards called Watling Street, until a little above Strood it turned slightly to the left, passing through what is now Cobham Park,—and leave the windmill on Broomhill to the right. The ground rises gently, the chalk formation being exposed here and there in disused pits. A portion of the road higher up is cut through the Thanet sands, which rest on the chalk. Again and again we stop, and turn to admire the winding valley of the Medway. As we get more into the country and leave the town behind, we find the roadsides still decked with summer flowers, notably the fine dark blue Canterbury bell—the nettle-leaved Campanula (Campanula Trachelium)—and the exquisite light-blue chicory (Cichorium Intybus); but the flowers of the latter are so evanescent that, when gathered, they fade in an hour or two. This beautiful starlike-blossomed plant is abundant in many parts of Kent. We pass on the right the pretty high-standing grounds of Mr. Hulkes at the "Little Hermitage," and notice the obelisk further to the right on still higher land, erected about fifty years ago to the memory of Charles Larkin (a name very suggestive of "the eldest Miss Larkins") of Rochester,—"a parish orator and borough Hampden"—by his grateful fellow-citizens.
A walk of less than three miles brings us to the "Sir John Falstaff"—"a delightfully old-fashioned roadside inn of the coaching days, which stands on the north side of the road a little below 'Gad's Hill Place,' and which no man possessed of a penny was ever known to pass in warm weather."
Mr. Kitton relates in Dickensiana the following amusing story of a former waiter at the "Falstaff":—
"A few days after Dickens's death, an Englishman, deeply grieved at the event, made a sort of pilgrimage to Gad's Hill—to the home of the great novelist. He went into the famous 'Sir John Falstaff Inn' near at hand, and in the effusiveness of his honest emotions, he could not avoid taking the country waiter into his confidence.
"'A great loss this of Mr. Dickens,' said the pilgrim.
"'A very great loss to us, sir,' replied the waiter, shaking his head; 'he had all his ale sent in from this house!'"
One of the two lime-trees only remains, but the well and bucket—as recorded by the Uncommercial Traveller in the chapter on "Tramps"—are there still, surrounded by a protective fence.
We have but little time to notice the "Falstaff," for our admiring gaze is presently fixed on Gad's Hill Place itself, the house in which Dickens resided happily—albeit trouble came to him as to most men—from the year 1856 till his death in 1870. Everybody knows the story of how, as a little boy, he cherished the idea of one day living in this house, and how that idea was gratified in after-life. It is from the Uncommercial Traveller, in the chapter on "Travelling Abroad," and the repetition is never stale. He says:—
"So smooth was the old high road, and so fresh were the horses, and so fast went I, that it was midway between Gravesend and Rochester, and the widening river was bearing the ships, white-sailed or black-smoked, out to sea, when I noticed by the wayside a very queer small boy.
"'Holloa!' said I to the very queer small boy, 'where do you live?'
"'At Chatham,' says he.
"'What do you do there?' says I.
"'I go to school,' says he.
"I took him up in a moment, and we went on. Presently, the very queer small boy says, 'This is Gad's Hill we are coming to, where Falstaff went out to rob those travellers, and ran away.'
"'You know something about Falstaff, eh?' said I.
"'All about him,' said the very queer small boy. 'I am old (I am nine), and I read all sorts of books. But do let us stop at the top of the hill, and look at the house there, if you please!'
"'You admire that house?' said I.
"'Bless you, sir,' said the very queer small boy, 'when I was not more than half as old as nine, it used to be a treat for me to be brought to look at it. And now, I am nine, I come by myself to look at it. And ever since I can recollect, my father, seeing me so fond of it, has often said to me, 'If you were to be very persevering, and were to work hard, you might some day come to live in it.' Though that's impossible!' said the very queer small boy, drawing a low breath, and now staring at the house out of window with all his might.
"I was rather amazed to be told this by the very queer small boy; for that house happens to be my house, and I have reason to believe that what he said was true."
Mrs. Lynn Linton, the celebrated novelist, who resided at Gad's Hill as a child, has very kindly given us her personal recollections of it sixty years ago, and of the interesting circumstances under which Charles Dickens subsequently purchased the property;—which will be found at the end of this chapter.
Before seeking permission to enter the grounds of Gad's Hill Place, which are surrounded by a high wall, and screened externally by a row of well-topped lime-trees, we retrace our steps for a few minutes, in order to refresh ourselves with a homely luncheon, and what Mr. Richard Swiveller would call a "modest quencher," at the Sir John Falstaff. It may be certain that not much time is consumed in this operation. We then take a good look at the remarkable house opposite, the object of our pilgrimage, which has been made well known by countless photographs and engravings. It is a comfortable, but a not very attractive-looking red-brick house of two stories, with porch at entrance, partly covered with ivy. All the front windows, with the exception of the central ones, are bayed, and there are dormer windows in the roof, which is surmounted by a bell-turret and vane. What a strange fascination it has for admirers of Dickens when seen for the first time! According to Forster, in his Life of the novelist, the house was built in 1780 by a well-known local character named James Stevens, who rose to a good position. He was the father-in-law of the late Professor Henslow, the Botanist, of Cambridge. Dickens paid for it the sum of L1,790, and the purchase was completed on Friday, 14th March, 1856. The present owner is Major Austin F. Budden, of the 12th Kent Artillery Volunteers, who, we find, in the course of subsequent conversation, had also done good municipal service, having filled the office of Mayor of Rochester for two years,—from 1879 to 1881,—and that he was elected at the early age of twenty-eight.
We ring the bell at the gate which shuts the house out from view, and are promptly answered by a pleasant-speaking housemaid, who takes our cards on a salver, and ushers us into the library. We are requested to enter our names in the visitors' book, and this is done with alacrity. We are under the impression that we shall only be allowed to see the hall and study, a privilege allowed to any visitor on presentation of a card; but fortunately for us the courteous owner appears, and says that, as he has half an hour to spare, he will show us entirely over the house. He is better than his word, and we, delighted with the prospect, commence our inspection of the late home of the great novelist with feelings of singular pleasure, which are altogether a new sensation. Do any readers remember, when perusing the Waverley novels in their youth, a certain longing (as the height of their ambition, possibly gratified in after-life) to see Abbotsford, the home of the "Wizard of the North"? That is a feeling akin to the one which possesses us on the present occasion, a feeling of veneration almost amounting to awe as we recall, and seem to realize, not only the presence of Charles Dickens himself, but of the many eminent literary, artistic, and histrionic characters—his contemporaries—who assembled here, and shared the hospitality of the distinguished owner. "Dickens penetrates here—where does not his genial sunshine penetrate?"
Turning over the leaves of the visitors' book, Major Budden calls our attention to the signatures of Americans, who constitute by far the majority of visitors. Among the more recent appears the name of that accomplished actress, Miss Mary Anderson—herself a great admirer of Charles Dickens—who came accompanied by a party of friends. We also found her name, with the same party, in the visitors' book at Richard Watts's Charity in Rochester. Major Budden spoke also of the great enthusiasm always exhibited by our American friends in regard to Dickens, some of whom had told him more than once that it was the custom to instruct their children in a knowledge of his works: they read them, in fact, in the schools.
The library, or study, is a very cosy little room, made famous by Mr. Luke Fildes's picture of "The Empty Chair." It is situated on the west side of the porch, looking to the front, with the shrubbery in the distance; and among the most conspicuous objects contained in it are the curious counterfeit book-backs devised by Dickens and his friends, and arranged as shelves to fit the door of the room. They number nearly eighty, and a selection is given below of a few of the quaintest titles, viz.:—
The Quarrelly Review. 4 vols.
King Henry the Eighth's Evidences of Christianity. 5 vols.
Noah's Arkitecture. 2 vols.
Groundsel (by the Author of Chickweed).
Cockatoo on Perch.
History of a Short Chancery Suit. 21 vols.
Cats' Lives. 9 vols.
Hansard's Guide to Refreshing Sleep (many volumes).
The Wisdom of our Ancestors—I. Ignorance. II. Superstition. III. The Block. IV. The Stake. V. The Rack. VI. Dirt. VII. Disease.
Several of the titles were used for a similar purpose at Tavistock House, London—Dickens's former residence.
We cannot help, as we sit down quietly for a few minutes, wondering how much of Little Dorrit, Hunted Down, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, The Uncommercial Traveller, Our Mutual Friend, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which were all issued between 1856 and 1870) was written in this famous room, to say nothing of those heaps of exquisite letters which so helped, cheered, interested, or amused many a correspondent, and have delighted the public since.
In the hall, which has the famous parquet floor laid down by Dickens, is still hanging the framed illumination, artistically executed by Owen Jones, and placed there immediately after Dickens became the "Kentish freeholder on his native heath" as he called it. It is as follows:—
This House, GAD'S HILL PLACE, stands on the summit of Shakespeare's Gad's Hill, ever memorable for its association with Sir John Falstaff, in his noble fancy.
"But, my lads, my lads, to-morrow morning by four o'clock early at Gad's Hill. There are pilgrims going to Canterbury with rich offerings, and traders riding to London with fat purses; I have vizards for you all; you have horses for yourselves."
From the hall we enter the dining-room, a cheerful apartment looking on to the beautiful lawn at the back, which has at the end the arched conservatory of lilac-tinted glass at top, in which the novelist took so much interest, and where he hung some Chinese lanterns, sent down from London the day before his death. We are informed that in this building he signed the last cheque which he drew, to pay his subscription to the Higham Cricket Club. The door of the dining-room is faced with looking-glass, so that it may reflect the contents of the conservatory. Among these are two or three New Zealand tree-ferns which Dickens himself purchased. In the dining-room Major Budden pointed out the exact spot where the fatal seizure from effusion on the brain took place, on the afternoon of Wednesday, 8th June, 1870, and where Dickens lay: first on the floor to the right of the door on entering, and afterwards to the left, when the couch was brought down (by order of Mr. Steele, the surgeon of Strood, as we subsequently learned), upon which he breathed his last.
The drawing-room faces the front, and, like the dining-room, has been lengthened, and opens into the conservatory. In fact, Dickens was always improving Gad's Hill Place. There is a memorable reference to the conservatory by Forster in the third vol. of the Life. He says:—
"This last addition had long been an object of desire with him, though he would hardly, even now, have given himself the indulgence but for the golden shower from America. He saw it first in a completed state on the Sunday before his death, when his youngest daughter was on a visit to him.
"'Well, Katey,' he said to her, 'now you see POSITIVELY the last improvement at Gad's Hill,' and every one laughed at the joke against himself. The success of the new conservatory was unquestionable. It was the remark of all around him, that he was certainly, from this last of his improvements, drawing more enjoyment than from any of its predecessors, when the scene for ever closed!"
This room is a long one, and, in common with all the others, gives us, under the auspices of the brilliantly fine day, some idea of the late owner's love of light, air, and cheerfulness. That the situation is also a healthy and bracing one is confirmed by the fact, that in a letter written on board the Russia, bound for Liverpool, on the 26th April, 1868, after his second American tour, he speaks of having made a "Gad's Hill breakfast."
Our most considerate cicerone next takes us into several of the bedrooms, these being of large size, and having a little dressing-room marked off with a partition, head-high, so that no cubic space is lost to the main chamber. As illustrative of Charles Dickens's care for the comfort of his friends, it is said that in the visitors' bedrooms there was always hot water and a little tea-table set out, so that each one could at any time make for himself a cup of the beverage "that cheers but not inebriates." The views from these rooms are very charming. Mr. W. T. Wildish afterwards told us, that during the novelist's life-time, Mr. Trood, the landlord of the Sir John Falstaff, once took him over Gad's Hill Place, and he was surprised to find Dickens's own bath-room covered with cuttings from Punch and other comic papers. I have since learned that this was a screen of engravings which had originally been given him.
The gardens, both flower and vegetable, are then pointed out—the approach thereto from the back lawn being by means of a flight of steps—as also the rosary, which occupies a portion of the front lawn to the westward. The roses are of course past their best, but the trees look very healthy.
In the flower garden we are especially reminded of Dickens's love for flowers, the China-asters, single dahlias, and zinnias being of exceptional brightness. As to the violets, which are here in abundance, both the Neapolitan and Russian varieties, the Major shows us a method of cultivating them, first in frames, and then in single rows, so that he can get them in bloom for nearly nine months in the year!
Adjoining the lawn and vegetable garden is "the much-coveted meadow," which the master of Gad's Hill obtained by exchange of some land with the trustees of Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School at Rochester, and in which he planted "a number of limes and chestnuts, and other quick-growing trees." Four grass walks meet in the centre of the vegetable garden, where there is a fine old mulberry tree.
It is stated in Forster's Life of the novelist (Vol. iii. p. 188) that Dickens obtained the meadow by exchange of some land "with the Trustees of Watts's Charity." But this is not right. The distinguished historian of the Commonwealth, and the faithful friend of the novelist all through his life, is so habitually accurate, that it is an exceptional circumstance for any one to be able to correct him. However, I am indebted to Mr. A. A. Arnold, of Rochester, for the following authentic account of the transaction.
Dickens was always anxious to obtain this meadow (which consists of about fourteen acres), and, believing that the Trustees of Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School at Rochester were not empowered to sell their land, he purchased a field at the back of his own shrubbery from Mr. Brooker, of Higham, with a view—as appears from the following characteristically courteous and business-like letter—to effect an exchange.
"GAD'S HILL PLACE, HIGHAM BY ROCHESTER, KENT. Monday, Thirtieth June, 1862.
"Reverting to a proposal already made in general terms by my solicitor, Mr. Ouvry, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, to Messrs. Essel and Co., I beg to submit my application to you in detail.
"It is that you will have the kindness to consider the feasibility of exchanging the field at the back of my property here (marked 404 in the accompanying plan), for the plot of land marked 384 in the said plan.
"I believe it will appear to you, on inquiry, that the land I offer in exchange for the meadow is very advantageously situated, and is of greater extent than the meadow, and would be of greater value to the Institution, whose interests you represent. On the other hand, the acquisition of the meadow as a freehold would render my little property more compact and complete.
"I have the honor to be, Gentlemen, Your faithful and obedient Servant, CHARLES DICKENS.
"To the Governors of Sir Joseph Williamson's Free School, Rochester."
The offer fell through at the time; but it was renewed in 1868 in a different form, and eventually the field was sold (by permission of the Charity Commissioners) to Charles Dickens at an "accommodation" price—L2,500—which really exceeded its actual market value.
But to resume our inspection. The whole of the back of the house, looking southward, is covered by a Virginia creeper (Ampelopsis quinquefolia) of profuse growth, which must be an object of singular beauty in the autumn when the crimson tints appear. As it now stands it is beautifully green, and there is scarcely more than a leaf or two here and there marking autumnal decay. The two famous hawthorn trees were blown down in a gale some years ago.
In a quiet corner under a rose-tree (Gloire de Dijon), flanked by a Yucca in bloom, the bed underneath consisting of deep blue lobelia, is a touching little memorial to a favourite canary. This consists of a narrow little board, made like a head-stone, and set aslant, on which is painted in neat letters the following epitaph:—
This is the grave of DICK, the best of birds, born AT BROADSTAIRS, Midsummer, 1851, died AT GAD'S HILL PLACE, 4th October, 1866.
No one can doubt who was the author of these simple lines. "Dick," it should be said, "was very dear both to Dickens and his eldest daughter," and he has been immortalized in Forster's Life. There is a very humorous account given of the attacks which the cats in the neighbourhood made upon him, and which were frustrated by an organized defence. The following is the passage:—
"Soon after the arrival of Dickens and his family at Gad's Hill Place, a household war broke out, in which the commander-in-chief was his man French, the bulk of the forces engaged being his children, and the invaders two cats." Writing to Forster, Dickens says:—"'The only thing new in this garden is that war is raging against two particularly tigerish and fearful cats (from the mill, I suppose), which are always glaring in dark corners after our wonderful little Dick. Keeping the house open at all points, it is impossible to shut them out, and they hide themselves in the most terrific manner: hanging themselves up behind draperies, like bats, and tumbling out in the dead of night with frightful caterwaulings. Hereupon French borrows Beaucourt's gun, loads the same to the muzzle, discharges it twice in vain, and throws himself over with the recoil, exactly like a clown. . . . About four pounds of powder and half a ton of shot have been fired off at the cat (and the public in general) during the week. The funniest thing is, that immediately after I have heard the noble sportsman blazing away at her in the garden in front, I look out of my room door into the drawing-room, and am pretty sure to see her coming in after the birds, in the calmest manner possible, by the back window.'"
Passing on our way the large and well-lighted servants' hall, over which is the bachelors' room,—whence in days gone by that rare literary serial, The Gad's Hill Gazette, issued from a little printing press, presented by a friend to the sixth son of the novelist, who encouraged his boy's literary tastes,—we next see the stables, as usual, like everything else, in excellent order. A small statue of Fame blowing her golden trumpet surmounts the bachelors' room, and looks down upon us encouragingly.
Our attention is then turned to the well, which is stated to be two hundred and seventeen feet deep, in the shed, or pumping-room, over which is the Major's mare, "Tell-tale," cheerfully doing her daily twenty minutes' task of drawing water, which is pumped up to the cistern on the roof for the supply of the house. There is said to be never less than twenty feet of water in the well.
It may be interesting to mention that Gad's Hill Place ("the title of my estate, sir, my place down in Kent"), which is in the parish of Higham, and about twenty-six miles from London, stands on an elevation two hundred and fifty feet above mean sea-level. The house itself is built on a bed of the Thanet sands. The well is bored right through these sands, which Mr. W. H. Whitaker, F.R.S., of H. M. Geological Survey (who has kindly given me some valuable information on the subject), states "may be about forty feet thick, and the water is drawn up from the bed of chalk beneath. This bed is of great thickness, probably six hundred or seven hundred feet, and the well simply reaches the level at which the chalk is charged with water, i. e. something a little higher than the level of the neighbouring river." The chalk is exposed on the lower bases of Gad's Hill, such as the Railway Station at Higham, the village of Chalk, the town of Strood, etc.
There are humorous extracts from letters by Dickens in Forster's Life respecting the well, which may appropriately be introduced. He says:—
"We are still (6th of July) boring for water here, at the rate of two pounds per day for wages. The men seem to like it very much, and to be perfectly comfortable." . . . And again, "Here are six men perpetually going up and down the well (I know that somebody will be killed), in the course of fitting a pump; which is quite a railway terminus—it is so iron, and so big. The process is much more like putting Oxford Street endwise, and laying gas along it, than anything else. By the time it is finished, the cost of this water will be something absolutely frightful. But of course it proportionately increases the value of the property, and that's my only comfort. . . . Five men have been looking attentively at the pump for a week, and (I should hope) may begin to fit it in the course of October." The depression caused by the prospect of the "absolutely frightful" cost of the water seems to have continued to the end of the letter, for it thus concludes:—"The horse has gone lame from a sprain, the big dog has run a tenpenny nail into one of his hind feet, the bolts have all flown out of the basket carriage, and the gardener says all the fruit trees want replacing with new ones."
Two of the Major's dogs are chained in the places formerly occupied by Dickens's dogs, "Linda" and "Turk." The chains are very long, and allow the animals plenty of room for exercise. The space between the two permitted a person to walk past without their being able to come near him; and, as an instance of Dickens's thoughtful kindliness even to the lower animals, two holes were made in the wall so that the dogs could get through in hot weather, and lie in the shade of the trees on the other side. On the back gate entering into the lane at the side of the house was painted, "Beware of the dogs!" This caution appears to have been very necessary, for we heard more than once the story of an intrusive tramp who trespassed, and going too near the dogs, got sadly mauled. Dickens, with characteristic goodness, sent him at once to Chatham Hospital, and otherwise healed his wounds.
We are next conducted round the grounds, and have an opportunity of examining the front of the house more in detail. The porch is flanked by two cosy seats, the pretty little spade-shaped shields, and lateral angular ornamental supports on the back of which, we are informed, were constructed of pieces of wood from Shakespeare's furniture given to Dickens by a friend. A large variegated holly grows on either side of the porch, and a semi-circular gravel walk leads to the door. There is a closely-cut lawn in front, and opposite the hollies are two fine specimens of Aucuba Japonica—the so-called variegated laurel.
It will be remembered that the master of Gad's Hill had a tunnel excavated under the Dover Road (which runs through the property), so as to approach the "shrubbery" previously referred to, without having to cross the open public road. We did not learn who constructed the tunnel, but it was designed either by his brother, Mr. Alfred L. Dickens, who died at Manchester in 1860, or by his brother-in-law, Mr. Henry Austin. The entrance to the tunnel is by a flight of about twenty steps, flanked by two beautifully-grown specimens of Cedrus deodara, the "deodar," or god-tree of the Himalayas. The tunnel itself is cut through the sands, and, being only a little longer than the width of the road, it is not at all dark, but very pleasant and cool on a hot day. A corresponding flight of steps leads us into the shrubbery, which is shut off from the main road by iron railings only. Both ends of the tunnel are covered with ivy, which has the effect of partially concealing the openings. Readers of Forster's Life will recollect that the Swiss chalet presented to Dickens by his friend Fechter the actor, and in which he spent his last afternoon, formerly stood in the shrubbery. The chalet now stands in the terrace-garden of Cobham Hall.
Before we reach the exact place we have an opportunity of examining the two stately cedar trees (Cedrus Libani) which are the arboreal gems of the place. Major Budden informs us that they are about one hundred and twenty-eight years old, and were planted in their present position when they had attained about twenty years' growth. Some idea of their luxuriance may be formed when it is mentioned that the girth of each tree exceeds sixteen feet, and the longest branch of one of them measures eighty-four feet in length. In consequence of the habit of these trees "fastigiating" at the base, a very numerous series of lateral ramifying branches is the result. These branches spread out in terraces, and the rich green foliage, covered with exudations of resin, seems as though powdered silver had been lightly dusted over it. Each tree extends over a circular area of about eighty feet of ground in diameter. Under one of the cedars is the grave of "the big and beautiful Linda," Dickens's favourite St. Bernard dog. One of the trees has been injured, a large branch over-weighted with snow having broken off some years ago.
Two or three noble ash trees also grace this spot, running straight up in a column some thirty-five feet before shooting out a canopy of branches and leaves. There are also a few Scotch firs, the trunks well covered with ivy, and a pretty specimen of the variegated sycamore. The undergrowth of laurel, laurustinus, briar, privet, holly, etc., is very luxuriant here, and the vacant ground is closely covered with the wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), which must form a continuous mass of pearly white flowers in spring-time.
The ground formerly occupied by the chalet is pointed out to us, its site being marked by a bed of rich scarlet nasturtiums. It will be recollected that Dickens describes the interior of the building in a letter to an American friend, which is thus recorded in Forster's Life:—
"Divers birds sing here all day, and the nightingales all night. The place is lovely and in perfect order. . . . I have put five mirrors in the chalet where I write, and they reflect and refract, in all kinds of ways, the leaves that are quivering at the windows, and the great fields of waving corn, and the sail-dotted river. My room is up among the branches of the trees; and the birds and the butterflies fly in and out, and the green branches shoot in at the open windows, and the lights and shadows of the clouds come and go with the rest of the company. The scent of the flowers, and indeed of everything that is growing for miles and miles, is most delicious."
But the glory of Gad's Hill Place is reserved for us until the close of our visit, when Major Budden very kindly takes us up to the roof, which is approached by a commodious flight of steps; and here, on this exceptionally fine day, we are privileged to behold a prospect of surpassing beauty. Right away to the westward is the great Metropolis, its presence being marked by the usual pall of greyish smoke. Opening from the town, and becoming wider and wider as the noble river approaches its estuary, is the Thames, now conspicuous by numerous vessels, showing masts and white and brown sails, and here and there by the smoky track of a steamer.