25 OCTOBER 1930, Page 40

Village Life

EVERYONE who is interested in English village life should read The Hamwood Papers. Mrs. G. H. Bell deserves much gratitude for editing and giving these letters and diaries to the world. In the year 1778 Lady Eleanor Butler and her friend, Sarah Ponsonby, fluttered the aristocratic dovecotes

in England and Ireland by running away from their homes and setting up together in a cottage in Llangollen, where they lived together " in sweet retirement " for half a century. Both ladies were tired of home life. Lady Eleanor was "defi- nitely, furiously unhappy." She was thirty, she was by all accounts rather plain and satirical—anyhow she had never had a proposal—her parents were not to her mind, nor was the " unrefined splendour " of Kilkenny Castle. The case of Miss Ponsonby was a worse one. She had no home of her own ; she attempted to make one with Sir William and Lady Betty Fownes, but Sir William made love to her in persecuting manner, and she, besides being a young woman of principle, loathed him.

The Ladies of Llangollen " were not isolated in their country home. The village was not " out of the way " ; all the traffic from Holyhead to London passed their door. The huge Irish cousinhood to which they belonged, living half in one country and half in another, must needs go through Llangollen in their peregrinations. They entertained them on their way—from great houses like Hamwood or humbler rectories and deaneries, and entertained also visitors coming to see Ireland from London and Oxford.

The interest of the book, however, does not consist in glimpses of great people but in intimacies nearer at hand. Lady Eleanor's diary tells of the innkeeper and the weaver, the village witch who overlooked the innkeeper's baby, giving it " an eager sharp look " sad to witness in one so young. We hear also of " the dirty little village quack " whose bills she pays with reluctance, the poor girl, finally pardoned, who was so nearly hanged on the green, and the " vile boy " who never got beyond the first bend of the chimney. Alas, how many cruelties does custom cover !

Obviously it was a happy life. The ladies worried them- selves a good deal because they could not punctually pay their debts. It did not, however, occur to them to avoid con- tracting them. That people in their position had a right to a certain standard of life and a certain deference from their inferiors, they were certain. " Sauciness " was the only fault they could not condone. They enjoyed the " superiority complex," and looked for the homage which nearly always came to them. After all they brought a great deal of grist to the village mill, and used all their wide interest in favour of village boy-s and girls. The bargain was a broad as it was long.