CRIPPS, THE CARRIER.*
" WORDSWOR'rli in prose," said a friend, laying down the volumes before us. And that brief sentence contains the secret of Mr. Blackmore's power. It is not merely that he loves nature. He has something perpetually fresh to say about her, and withal a keen sense of humour, in which our great poet was somewhat wanting. Nothing would be easier than to turn the story before us into ridicule. The plot is an absurd one ; we do no injury to- any one by telling it, because the sooner the reader's mind is- thoroughly disabused of the idea that there is any connection between it and the charm of the book the better. The whole situation turns on the capture and imprisonment (in a pretty cot- tage, under the custody of a relative) of a young girl, one Grace Oglander, only daughter of the squire of Beckley. The girl is really never more than seven miles from her own home, but is• made to believe she is at least thirty, and that her father is gone suddenly to the West Indies, while the poor old man is persuaded that his child is dead, probably murdered. And all this scheming goes on, of course, under the direction and for the benefit of a bad lawyer. The incidents are so improbable that we have little• doubt they owe their origin to some fugitive record of fact, but fact belonging to an older, or to put it more correctly, a younger world than that with which Mr. Blackmore deals. One of the main defects of the story is, that we are perpetually imagining ourselves back in at least the middle of the eighteenth century,. while the dates given are those of barely forty years ago. Well,- perhaps we hardly do realise the vast strides made by civilisation during this latter half of the present century. It is difficult to- remember that forty years ago telegrams were unknown, and, the dreams of honest villagers undisturbed by the scream of the railway-whistle or the presence of the school Inspector. It was. another world into which men and women were born then, but yet we hardly think lawyers' sons not yet twenty went forth to woo in sprig-patterned velvet waistcoats and cut- away coats, or that sensible and high-spirited maidens could remain in utter ignorance for many months of the simple fact that they were within a few miles' distance of their own homes ; nor that a whole household would desert panic- stricken at the thought of typhus, and leave a kind master to his fate. All these things, and much more to the same effect, are inconsistencies and even artistic blunders, to which all the author's consummate skill fails to reconcile us ; and yet they are all a mere nothing, when weighed against the true charm of the story. Mr. Blackmore has reproduced for us the sleepy atmo- sphere of the quiet old village till the very thought of it rests us. The quiet place had to carry on some intercourse with the outer world, and did it by help of its carrier, and this carrier was none other than Grippe, the hero of our story,—Cripps, whose family for generations bad been named after the books of the Bible, "in • Cripps, the Carrier: a Woodland Tale. By Richard Doddridge Blackmer& London : Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Risington. their just canonical sequence," while the girls " were baptised into the Apocrypha, or even the Epistles." Under such circumstances, we can hardly be surprised if Leviticus Cripps, getting his name cor- rupted into "ficcus,' received a warp in his nature at the same time. Could a man be expected to stand upright under such a patro- nymic? But Carrier Cripps had no affinity of soul with his less- -favoured brother ; he was a thoughtful man, and a kind-hearted man. " In the crown of his hat he always carried a monthly calendar, gummed on card-board ; and opposite almost every day he had dots or round O's or crosses, which each to his steady mind meant something." A great authority this man, at the village " public," and we have a scene, than which we know nothing finer of its kind out of Silas Marner, in which " the public of the ' public ' " sit in judgment on the non-appearance of the Squire's daughter. But if we come to know Zacchary Cripps well, we know Dobbin even better. Dobbin was the Carrier's horse merely, but he had an individuality of his own, as horses have, and had:come to a time of life " when it would not do to be extravagant of strength." Our first introduction to him is in a manner so characteristic of Mr. Blackmore's style, we cannot refrain from giving it :- " So now on the homeward road, with a heavy Christmas-laden cart to drag, this fine old horse took good care of himself, and having only a choice of evils, chose the least that he could find. Alas, the smallest that he could find wore great and very heavy ills ! Scarcely any man stops to think of the many weary cares that weigh upon the back of an 'honest horse. Men are eloquent on the trouble that sits behind the ,horseman, but the silent horse may bear all that, and the troublesome man in the saddle to boot, without any poet to pity him. Dobbin knew all this, but was too much of a horse to dwell on it. He kept his tongue well under bit, and his eyes in sagacious blinkers, and sturdily up the hill he stepped, while Cripps, his master, trudged beside him. Every 'talented' man must think, whenever ho walks beside a horse, of the superior talents of the horse—the bounty of nature in four curved legs, 'the pleasure there must be in timing them, the pride of the hard and goutloss feet, the glory of the mane (to which the human beard is no more than sea-weed in a billow), the power of blowing (which no man has in a comely and decorous form); and last, not least, the final bless- ing of terminating usefully in a tail. Zacchary Cripps was a man of five talents, and traded with them wisely ; but often as he walked beside his horse, and smelled his superiority, he became quite humble, and wiped his head, and put his whip back in the cart again. The horse, on the other hand, looked up to Zacchary with soft faith and love. He knew that his master could not be expected quite to understand the ways a horse is bound to have of getting on in harness—the hundreds -of things that must needs be done—and done in proper order, too—the duty of going always like a piece of the finest music, with chains, and shafts, and buckles, and hard leather to be harmonised, and the load which men are not born to drag, until they make it for themselves. Dobbin felt the difference, but he never grumbled as men do. He made the best of the situation ; and it was a hard one. The hill was strong against the collar ; and by reason of the snow, zigzag and the 'corkscrew tactics could not be resorted to. At all of these he was a 'dab, by dint of steep experience ; but now the long bill must be breasted, -and both shoulders set to it. The ruts were as slippery as glass, and did not altogether fit the wheels he had behind him; and in spite of the spikes which the blacksmith gave him, the snow balled on his hairy 'feet. So he stopped, and shook himself, and panted with large resolu- tions; and Cripps from his capacious pockets fetched the two oak wedges, and pushed one under either wheel ; while Esther, who was coming home at last, jumped from her seat, to help the load, and patted Dobbin's kind nose, and said a word or two to cheer him. The best parse as ever looked through a bridle,' Zacchary declared across his mane ; ' but he must be hoomered with his own way now, same as the rest on us, when ns grows old. Etty, my dear, no call for you to come down and catch chilblains.'" This Esther or Etty is the most distinct feminine figure in the book, except perhaps Cinnaminta, the gipsy-woman. Grace Oglander is misty, and would, but for one woodland scene, be Altogether unreal to us, but that little touch is perfect. It was a May-day, and we read of a tradition, confirmed by the experience of most of us, that the sun never rises on May-day without iced dew to glance upon. " The icy saints may be going by, but they leave their breath behind them. And the poets who have sent forth their maids to gather dews of May' knew and meant that dew must freeze to stand that operation," but on the particular morning of which we speak the air was not so keen as usual. "The trees that took the early light glistened rather with a soft moisture than with stiff encrustment, and sprays that kept their sallies into fickle air half latent, showing only little scolloped crinkles with a knob in them, held in every downy quillet a liquid rather than a .solid gem." Is anybody senseless enough not to realise the exact look on the whole face of nature on that particular morning, or to wonder that Grace Oglander, weary of confinement to the cottage precincts, should stray further than usual ? The day would have tempted any of us. "The soft sun hung in the light of the wood, and gentle warmth flowed through the alleys where the nesting pheasant ran. Little fluttering, timid things, that meant to be leaves, please God, some day, but had 'been baffled and beaten about so that their faith was shrunk to
hope ; little rifts of cover also, keeping beauty coiled inside, ready to open like a bivalve shell to the pulse of summer-tide, and then to be sweet blossom ; and the ground below them pressing up- ward with the ambition of young green, and the sky above them spread with liquid blue behind white pillows." There is a poem in every page at this part of the book, little pastorals we would not miss for anything. The beauty of the morning is upon Grace Oglander, but she cannot feel it fully without just entering the wood,—a wood which had proved itself not quite free from enchantment on another occasion. " Grace was quite certain that she had no desire to meet anybody when she went into the wood. She hoped to be spared any trial of that sort." There were pretty flowers there, and if they would not come to her, she had nothing to do but go to them. "Still she ought to have known that now things had changed from what they were as little as a week ago ;" and there- upon Mr. Blackmore gives another touch to his picture of that May morning. To a mind like his, which realises perpetually how, "even since yesterday—if we had the good-hap to see them yesterday—many thousand little things have spent the time in
changing," the demon of ennui is unknown. There is a joy into which lurking care enters not in every fresh morning, as it springs,
bringing with it fresh revelations of beauty to the eye that sees ; and the world, to such a one, moves without hurry. The sense of the insignificance of much for which men barter time, and health, and brain, and leisure grows upon us, and it is this which perhaps makes this story so pleasant for holiday reading. Soon the sterner requirements of life and the necessities of harness will make us, like old Dobbin, set our feet square to the hill again ;
but meantime we may walk awhile with old Squire Oglander in his garden, and see how people lived only forty years ago.
Amongst other characters in the book we have one Hardenow, sometime tutor of Brasenose, in the days when that antiquated, half- forgotten thing called the Tractarian movement was just beginning to take form and shape. Hardenow is admirably sketched,—a hard-working man, with a strong inclination to give the sleepy world around him a little shove ; an active, spare-bodied man, who, whatever he undertook, "carried on the action with such a swing and emphasis that he seemed to be doing nothing else ;" a man very oblivious of the cut of his clothes and of the boys who stared at him ; " a man of great power of mind, pure, unselfish, good and grand, loving all simplicity, quick to catch and glance the meaning of minds very different from his own." " He had a shy and very peculiar manner of turning his eyes away from even an undergraduate, when his words did not command assent, as sometimes happened with freshmen full of conceit from some great public school." He is lovingly sketched throughout, drawn from life, we do not doubt. And this man has one draw- back in his honest nature, — a drawback which must for ever hinder him from taking a first-class degree in the order of highest mind, and this is a radical want of native humour :—" His standing-point was so fixed and stable, that every subject might be said to revolve on its own axis during its revolution round him, and the side that never presented itself was the ludicrous or lightsome one." Hardenow had spent a long vacation under the roof of Cripps, the Carrier, and the two men thoroughly understood one another. The pretty figure and sweet gray eyes and deft ways of the Carrier's sister had made the place home-like, till honest-hearted Hardenow " had feared," humble- minded as he was, the young girl might be falling into liking him too well, and he knew there might be on his own part too much reciprocity. Therefore (much as he loved Cripps, and fully as he allowed for all that was to be said on every side) he felt himself bound to take a more distant view of Beckley. But the two were not destined to part so for ever, and in their subsequent history, slightly sketched as it is, Mr. Blackmore has given us in prose—that prose of which he is so perfect a master—as sweet a village idyl as ever Wordsworth penned. But we are mainly concerned with Cripps, and our readers shall have a chance of seeing how Cripps comports himself in this little question touching his sister's happiness. What Esther was to him may be gleaned in one sentence, when he tells her that in her absence his "lonesome victuals is worse than having no salt with them." Etty is away, nursing the fever-stricken man of whom we spoke before :—
4" God bless you, Etty, for a brave, good girl, and speed you home to Beckley. You want more sleep of nights, my dear; your cheeks are getting like a pillow-case. But excoose my mentioning of one thing, Etty ; I be like a father to 'ee : don't 'ee have more than you can help to say to the great scholard, Master Hardenow: Cripps was a gentle- man, in an inner kind of way, and he took good care to be getting up his shaft (with his stiff knee stiffer than ever, from the long frost of last winter) while he discharged his duty, as he thought it, at, as well as to, his sister. Then he deposited the polished part of his breeches on the driving-board, and brought his' game-leg' into the right stick- out, and with his usual deliberation started—nay, that is too strong a word—persuaded into progress his congenial and deliberate horse. Neither of them hurried on a washing-day, any more than they hurried upon any other day."
But he was not destined to reach home without having to per- form probably the most disagreeable duty he ever undertook in Ins life, for Master Cripps was a kindly and a peaceable man ; but on his homeward road he met Hardenow, and a word he would say :—
" Master Cripps had no liking at all for the duty which he felt bound to take in hand. He would rather have a row with three turnpike- men, than presume to speak to a gentleman ; therefore his bow-leg seemed to twitch him at the knee, as he led Hardenow aside into a quiet gateway; but his eyes were firm and his manner grave and steadfast as he began to speak. ' Mr. Hardenow, now I must ask you pardon, for a few words as I want to say. You are a gentleman, of course, and a very learned scholar ; and I be nothing but a common carrier,—a ' carrier for hire,' they calls me iu the law, when they comes upon me _for damages. Howsoever, I has to do my part off the road as well as on it, air; and my dooty to them of my own household comes next to my dooty to God and myzell. You are a good man, I know, and a kind one, and would not, beknown to yourself, harm any one. It would go to your heart, I believe, Mr. Hardenow, from what I seed of you, when you was quite a lad, if anyhow you was to be art or part in bringing un- happiness of mind to any that had trusted you.'—' I should hope so, Cripps. I have some idea of what you mean, but can hardly think— at any rate, speak more plainly.'—' Well then, sir, I means all about your goings-on with our little Etty,—or, at any rate, her goings-on with you, which cometh to the same thing in the end, so far as I be ac- quaint of it. You might think, if you was not told distinkly to the con- trairy, that having no business to lift up her eyes, she never would do so according. But I do assure you, sir, when it cometh to such-like manner of taking on, the last thing as ever gets called into the account is sensible reason. They feels this, and they feels that ; and then they falls to a-dreaming ; and the world goes into their tub, same as butter, and they scoops it out, and pats, and stamps it to their own size and liking, and then the whole melteth, and a sour fool is left.'—' Master -Grippe, what you say is wise ; and the like has often happened. But your sister's a most noble girl. You do her gross injustice by talking as if she were nothing but a common village maid. She is brave, she is pure, she is grandly unselfish. Her mind is well above feminine average; anything more so goes always amiss. You should not have such a low opinion as you seem to have of your sister, Grippe.'— 'Sir, my opinion is high enough. Now, to bring your own fine words to the test, would you ever dream of marrying the maid, if I and she both was agreeable ?'—' It would be an honour to me to do so. For the prejudices of the world I care not one fig. But surely you know that we contend for the celibacy of the clergy.'—' Maning as a parson maun't marry a wife ?' asked Cripps, by the light of nature.—' Yes, my friend, that is what we now maintain in the Anglican communion, as the tra- dition of the Church.'—' Well, may I be danged I' cried Cripps, who was an ardent theologian. Then, if I may make so bold to ask, sir, how could there a' been a tribe of Levi? They must all a' died out in the first generation ; if 'em ever come to any generation at Your ob- jection is ingenious, Cripps; but the analogy fails entirely. We are guided in such matters by unbroken and unquestionable tradition of the early Church.'—' Then, sir, if you goes outside of the Bible, you stand on your own legs, and leave us no kind of leg to stand upon. However, I believe that you mean well, sir, and I am sure that you never do no great harm. And as to our Etty, if you feel like that in an honest, helpless sort of way, I beg the honour of shaking hands, air, for the spirit that is inside of you.'—Certainly, certainly, Cripps, with great pleasure And then of asking you to tramp another road, for your own sake, as well as hers, sir. And may the Lord teach you to know your own mind.'" There are elements in the tale not so satisfactory as the simple ways of these honest-hearted men ; the bad lawyer is overdrawn, and we are to this moment perplexed to know if his wife is in- tended for all fool or three-parts knave, while Aunt Patch is simply a clumsy caricature. Still if any one has not yet chosen his holiday reading, we would say include Cripps. Get rid of all idea of a good story, make sure of leisure, and if after the first half-volume he is not better satisfied with the world he lives in, does not turn to gaze with more kindly interest on the deepen- ing colour of the leaves, and listen somewhat more intelligently to what the woods are whispering,—in short, if he has the heart to turn from communing with Nature in one of her plea- santest and rarest moments of communicativeness, to criticise harshly the probabilities, or rather improbabilities, of the some- what absurd story which runs like a thread through the work, why we can only say we fear his digestion is out of order, and his capacity for simple enjoyment nil. We have no remedy to suggest; we content ourselves with commending Mr. Blackmore's work to those who can understand how "to go into a garden in good weather soothes the temper;" how " the freedom of getting ont-of-doors is a gracious- joy, to begin with ; and when the first blush of that is past, without any trouble, there come forward so many things to be looked at." A few of those many things will meet them as they turn the pages.