I LITERARY ASSOCIATIONS OF CHEDDAR GORGE. T will be ten thousand
pities if, from lack of financial support, the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty is not able to preserve to the public for all time the famous Cheddar Gorge. At present,
as was mentioned in the Spectator of November 20th, the Trust has secured the option of purchasing the quarry, and thereby preventing any operations which can only tend to the dis-
figurement of this lovely spot. This option, however, will expire in a few months. Cheddar is a neighbourhood, not
merely of rare natural charm, but one which is hallowed by its literary associations.
Nowadays few people probably read the works of Miss Hannah More, but in her own time tlfey had a tremendous circulation, and, at any rate, she was remunerated for her efforts on a scale that is calculated to make budding writers of the present generation open their eyes with astonishment and sigh for similar treatment. Mr. Augustine Birrell in one of his delightful essays has recorded the fact that he got rid of Hannah More's writings by burying them deep down in his garden, and he expressed the fervent hope that they might never be disturbed. Yet for her novel " Coelebs in Search of a Wife," which was issued in 1809, she obtained 22,000 in a single year, and still retained the copyright in her own hands. Nearly the whole of the lives of Hannah More and her sisters was spent in the lovely Cheddar Valley, first at Cowslip Green, and then at a house which Hannah built for herself out of her literary earnings, and which she called Barley Wood. At both places she was visited from time to time by persons of distinction in the literary, political, or religious world. Cowslip Green, declared Horace Walpole, one of Miss More's friends and correspondents, must be "some relation, a cousin at least, to Strawberry Hill." It was 7.t Cowslip Green that the Misses More entertained the Rev. John Newton, the associate of the poet Cowper at Olney, who on the occasion of his return from one of these visits expressed his appreciation of the hospitality of the sisters in the following ingenious verse :—
"In Helicon could I my pen dip, I might attempt the praise of Mendip ; Were bards a hundred I'd outstrip 'em If equal to the theme of Shipham ; But harder still the task, I ween, To give its due to Cowslip Green."
Cheddar in those days, however, if we are to believe the testimony of Hannah More, was not the haven of happiness that it is to-day. "The incumbent of a neighbouring parish," she writes, "is intoxicated about six times a week, and is often prevented from preaching from black eyes, earned by fighting. We saw but one Bible in the entire parish, and that was used to prop a flower-pot." "Who was Abraham ? " asked Miss More of one of the children of the district. "I think he was an Exeter man," was the reply, delivered after a pause devoted to consideration. An altogether different type of man from the Rev. John Newton was a visitor to Hannah Mores house in 1814. This was young De Quincey, that erratic genius who was afterwards to win renown, if not wealth, by "The English Opium-Eater." Here De Quincey met Mrs. Siddons, "then retiring from the stage in her fifty-ninth year, and was amused by an animated debate which he heard between the two ladies on the points of Calvinism, till Hannah More's ladylike tact changed the subject, and wiled Mrs. Siddons into her charming recollections of Johnson and
An even more famous lover of the Cheddar Cliffs than any of those previously mentioned was Lord Macaulay, historian, essayist, poet, and statesman. In the "Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay," by his nephew, Sir George Trevelyan, we are told that Macaulay as a boy was always a welcome guest at Barley Wood, where he was encouraged without being spoiled. Speaking of a visit of a week which be paid to the Misses More in 1807, Macaulay says of his hostesses that they could not make enough of him. "They taught me to cook, and I was to preach and they got people in from the fields, and I stood on a chair and preached sermons. I might have been indicted for holding a conventicle." Years later, when he had won fame and fortune in a measure given to few men, Macaulay spoke with pleasure of his sojourns at Barley Wood, and with an affection almost filial of the Mores. When in the summer of 1852 he was attacked by an illness which at one time threatened to have a fatal termination, his thoughts turned to the much-loved Cheddar district, and it was in order that he might be near it that he went to Clifton in the search of health. Writing in his journal on August 21st, 1852,
he says :—
"A fine day. At eleven the Harfords, of Melee Castle, called in their barouche to take Margaret and me to Barley Wood. The valley of Wrington was as rich and lovely as ever. The Mendip ridge, the church tower, the islands in the distance were what they were 40 years ago and more. But Barley Wood itself is greatly changed The old roses run up the old trellis work, or up trellis work very like the old. But the Temple of the Winds is in ruins ; and the root-house, which was called the Tecta pauperis Evandri,' has quite disappeared. That was my favourite haunt. The urn of Locke has been moved. The urn of Porteous stands where it did. The place is improved, but it is not the place when I passed so many happy days in my childhood."
Writing a few days later—namely, August 28th—he says :— "Immediately after breakfast we set off for Cheddar. My orders were not obeyed. However, I pardoned the •disobedience when we came to the pass, for I was never more delighted by any scenery. The gradual rising of the heights, till the defile, from a rather tame valley, became the most awful of ravines, was wonderful. We lunched at Cheddar. To the church. I remember the old pulpit of stone painted. I saw a book fastened to a desk, and instantly recollected that it was the Book of Martyrs.' So it was. I had not been there during more than forty years. That is the only copy of the Book of Martyrs' that lever saw in a parish church. It is in tatters, thumbed to pieces, the first edition in black letter, but I could make out the account of Tyndal, and
some prints of burnings Home by Axbridge. Saw dear old Barley Wood from the road."
On September 14th Macaulay says :—•
" After breakfast Ellis and I drove to Wrington We
then walked to Barley Wood. They very kindly asked me to go upstairs. We saw Mrs. Hannah More's room. The bed is where her sofa and desk used to stand. The old bookcases—some of them at least—remain. I could point out the very place where the 'Don Quixote,' in four volumes, stood, and the very place from which I took down, at ten years old, the Lyrical Ballads.' With what delight and horror I read the Ancient Mariner.' " Macaulay's affection for Hannah More did not cause him to have any false notion as to her true position in literature. Writing from Calcutta, June 15th, 1837, to the editor of the Edinburgh Review, he says :— "I never, to the best of my recollection, proposed to review Hannah More's life or works. If I did it must have been in jest. She was exactly the very last person in the world about whom I should choose to write a critique. She was a very kind friend to me from childhood. Her notice first called out my literary tastes. Her presents laid the foundation of my library. She was to me what Ninon was to Voltaire—begging her pardon for comparing her to a strumpet, and yours for comparing myself to a great man. She was really a second mother to me. I have a real affection for her memory. I, therefore, could not possibly write about her, unless I wrote in her praise, and all the praise which I could give her writings, even after straining my conscience in her favour, would be far indeed from satisfying any of her admirers."