27 JUNE 1896, Page 35


IT was a happy idea that occurred to Mr. Harper of writing the history of the classic coach-roads of this country. If anything of the kind is to be done, there should be no delay in doing it. Coaches have now been banished from our roads for nearly sixty years, and before long their memories will have utterly faded away. Mr. Harper has already produced two agreeable volumes of this series in his histories of the Brighton and Portsmouth Roads, and there is no doubt that the book now before us, in spite of its detects, will give pleasure to many readers.

A book of this kind necessarily must be to a large extent a compilation or selection, and this Mr. Harper has been careful to admit. He tells us that it has been his wish " to give a modicum of information with the maximum of amusement," and, speaking generally, he has succeeded in doing so. The worth of his volume, however, depends on the correctness of the information it contains, whilst its literary merit is based on what may be termed the writer's connective tissue. It is to be feared that the careful reader will come across a good many statements that require investigation.

• The Dover load: Annals of an Ancient Turnpike. By Marks J. Harper. London : Chapman and Hall. and in some cases correction. Our author says that he has " personally inspected " every foot of the Dover Road, and that "not once but several times." Such inspection will help a writer to very accurate topographical knowledge, but hardly to exactitude in antiquarian, historical, and literary references, nor will it assist him greatly in the art of writing good English. In these respects it is to be regretted that Mr. Harper's work leaves room for serious complaint. He begins badly. In his preface he makes a startling allusion to "that old Horatian fallacy, ' Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat." What would the shade of Dr. Johnson say to this ? In writing of Blackheath, he gives an account of the origin of Wat Tyler's rebellion which is open to question, although it would have satisfied Mrs. Markham. What Mr. Harper is pleased to call the " eloquent happening" of the tax-collector's murder at Dart- ford may have been the occasion, although this is doubtful, but it was not the cause, of the rising, which was carefully planned, and extended simultaneously from Kent to York- shire. What authority has Mr. Harper for calling John Ball "a dissolute itinerant priest " ? A little farther on we are told that Cade was "an obviously ignorant clown," on the authority of Shakespeare. Contemporary historians give a very different account of him, and describe him as being "sober in talk, wise in reasoning, arrogant in heart, and stiff in opinion." He appears to have been a genuine reformer. Mr. Harper contemptuously rejects the theory put forward by archaeologists that "Danes Holes" near Dartford and Crayford may have been shafts sunk for the purpose of obtaining flints of a special quality for the mann. facture of flint implements+, on the grounds that "flints were to be found readily enough by the men of the Stone Age without going to the trouble of mining for them." He seems never to have heard of Grimes' Graves, nor even of the excavations for supplying the gun-flint factories at Brandon in Norfolk, which are still at work. To him a flint is a flint. Neolithic man knew better. There may be a printer's error on p. 100, where we find "daughter of he (sic) who is known to history as Wat Tyler." A mishap of the same kind may be responsible for the statement that " the Roman roads fell into a ruin that had been made and kept in repair for hundreds of years." It is more difficult to find ex- cuse for such offences against good taste as are given on pp. 50 and 101. Mr. Harper's English is at times extremely slipshod and careless. Without wishing to be captious, it may be said that the numerous defects that are to be found in its pages militate against the value of the book.

Still, apart from these shortcomings, Mr. Harper has given us a bright and entertaining volume. The subject is an attrac- tive one; there is no road in the kingdom more thronged with the memories of notable persons—historical and fictitious— than is the ancient highway between London and Dover. Existing before the coming of the Romans, it was made by them into a paved road, and formed the first section of what the Saxons afterwards knew as Watling Street, that great road which traverses England from Dover to Chester. With one deviation—viz., the portion from Dartford to Strood—the modern road follows the old route. Our author starts from Southwark, and this affords opportunity for some pleasant gossip about the old inns, and the coaches which used to start from or call at them, and of course the famous Pilgrims of Chaucer are here introduced, and give the reader more or less of their company all the way to Canterbury. In the present day, "there is no road to equal the Dover Road for thieves, tramps, cadgers and miscellaneous vagrants either for number or depravity." A hundred years ago the con- dition of the road was terrible. Pitt and Dandas coming up from Dover, and overtaken by bad weather, found it prudent to put up at New Cross, where they drank seven bottles of port-wine before going to bed. Of Shooter's Hill, Bexley, and Dartford, the traditional home of paper-making in England, and where the manufacture is still largely carried on, of Greenhithe, Northfleet, and Gravesend, Mr. Harper discourses pleasantly enough. "There's milestones on the Dover Road" is a statement which occurs among what may be called the obiter dicta of Mr. P.'s aunt, the eccentric lady who figures in the pages of Little Dorrit. At the twenty- sixth of these milestones we find ourselves at Gad's Hill, " memorable for the numerous robberies committed on its miry ways," for the supreme, practical joke that Prince Hal played upon Falstaff, and for the fact that Charles Dickens lived and died at Gad's Hill House. His house was the early home of Mrs. Lynn Linton, who sold the property to the novelist. Mr. Harper quotes a very picturesque account given by her of the busy scene on the road during her girlhood, when the coaches were yet running, to which the reader will turn with pleasure. Dickens, of course, knew the Dover Road well, and it seems to be per- vaded by his genius from end to end. It may be termed the. Great High Road through Dickensland. Gad's Hill our author finds at first to be distinotly disappointing, and calls it "a paltry pimple of a hill," but consideration shows him that in former days the woodlands which then came close up to and overshadowed the highways, gave ambush for the "gads" or rogues from whom the hill took its name. From Rochester, over the balustrades of whose ancient bridge, now replaced by a modern structure, Mr. Pickwick leant, " con- templating nature and waiting for breakfast," we pass to Chatham, gain the town and brickfields of Sittingbourne, and traversing the beautiful cherry-orchards and hop-gardens of this part of Kent, arrive in due time at Canterbury. Mr. Harper tells the story of " Courtenay's Rebellion," a curious uprising which took place in this district in 1838, and the suppression of which coat many lives. The narrative of this forgotten episode is worth reading. Of course Mr. Harper has much to say of the Cathedral city. From Canterbury to Dover the road " loses very much of that religious character, picturesquely varied with murder and robbery, which is its chiefest (sic) feature between Southwark and the Shrine of Saint Thomas.' Barham Downs are now traversed, a bleak region where much fighting took place between Julius Caesar and the Britons. In this wild and treeless country, which is rich in legend and folklore, will be found the remnant of Tappington Manor House, where the Rev. Richard Harris Barham lived daring his youth. In the Ingoldsby Legends he did not fail to draw on local story ; but Mr. Harper notes that he never alluded to the tale of the genuine tragedy of Tappington, which is duly set down in these pages. A little further on, and Dover is happily reached, and the road ends. Mr. Harper has embellished his pages with numerous illustrations, many being reproductions of old pictures, together with drawings of his own. These, as a rule, are acceptable. Some of his sketches show specimens of the old houses, covered with weather-boards, to which he more than once refers. Probably he himself is aware, although many persons are not, that very frequently this weather-boarding is a more or less modern casing to old half-timber structures which can no longer defy the rain and wind. In Surrey and Sussex the same thing may be observed, but tiles are used as the cover- ing material, and are often hung only on the south and west sides. We must now leave Mr. Harper, wishing him every success with his next volume, and venturing to hope that he will bestow a little more care on its compilation, and so avoid the vulgarisms and errors into which he has sometimes allowed himself to be betrayed.