Imágenes de páginas

it was a relief to turn, at times, and solace my eyes with the almost boundless prospect that expanded behind, -everywhere, indeed, except just in front. The villages of Fortune's Well and Chesil, united into one, lie just beneath ; then stretches away in a line, of which the eye fails to detect the termination, the Chesil Beach dividing two waters, both beautiful; the one undulating with the long swells of the Atlantic, the other smooth, or at most but rippled. Wyke crowns the hill just opposite with its tall tower and the hedge-rowed fields chequering the slopes around, and beyond it sweeps a long blue line of coast witli dim headlands here and there, as far as Torquay.

I passed the Quarries rapidly, for I wished to get to the southern end of the island by low-water, desiring, as the time was favourable, to explore the rocky caves and coves that indent the precipitous coast; and posted on through two other villages, Highstone and Wakeham, which, like the former two, merge into one. I met here with a garrulous old man, a characteristic specimen of the island population. Like nine-tenths of his fellows he had united the trades of smuggler and stone-cutter; gave me some graphic anecdotes of the adventures of his younger days, when “ running tubs," and described the sad fate of his hopeful son, a stone-hewer like himself, who was suddenly snatched from his side by a block of stone falling upon him, from the seaward cliff where they were quarrying The stone split my poor boy right open," said the old man; and pathetically added, “ I've never worked a stroke since !"

Few specimens of vegetation can Portland produce that attain the dimensions of a tree ; but near the middle there is a pretty grove of horse-chesnut, maple, elm, and other trees, of no great altitude, certainly, but imparting a rural aspect to the vicinity of Pensylvania Castle, the quondam seat of the governor of the island. Beside this a narrow road scarped out of the rock brings the traveller to a far more ancient structure, which tradition assigns to

-That red king who, while of old
Through Bolderwood the chase he led,

By his loved huntsman's arrow bled. It is named indifferently Rufus Castle, or Bow-and-Arrow Castle, from the square loopholes with which its solid walls are pierced. A single square tower remains, on the summit of an almost isolated mass of rock scarcely more than commensurate with itself, along which the road winds forty feet deep, through the arch of a bridge, which leads to the castle-door from the adjacent heights.

A most magnificent prospect expands as we pass under this bridge. We are on the verge of a precipice, with a little cove below, called Church Hope, the only landing for a boat along this coast. Broken masses of stone are heaped in the wildest confusion on every side, and all up the craggy slopes a wilderness of grey stone, of which the aspect is painfully desolate, and, so to speak, ruined. A steep and difficult road has been cut down to the beach, and about half-down is a hollow, whither the inhabitants resort for water. Beneath a stone a stop-cock is inserted, that none may be wasted of a fluid so precious : a woman with her pails coming down informed me that every drop they drink has to be fetched in this laborious manner, and carried up the steep precipice. To make it worse, the spring fails in droughts, when they must resort still lower, to a little stream that breaks out of the cliff below.

A little way beyond Church Hope, going southward, there is a vast chasm, produced by some convulsion of nature prior to all tradition. Its general course is straight, and parallel with the coast ; running perhaps a quarter of a mile in length, and thirty yards in average width (I speak conjecturally, for I had no means of measuring it); the stone sides rising perpendicularly, exactly like walls, with the stratification imitating courses of regular masonry, but of cyclopean dimensions. Long brambles, shooting from the fissures, spread in patches, which assist the glossy ivy to throw a graceful drapery over the walls of this yawning gulf; and the suspicious blackbird that shot out of her nest at my approach, and the lesser birds that hopped about, showed that, however


awful the scene appeared to me, it was not without its charms for these gentle denizens.

I was struck with the resemblance which this phenomenon bears to a chasm in Lundy, that I have elsewhere described. No doubt in each case the effect was produced by the partial separation and recession of a slice (if I may use so undignified a term) of the precipice, which, instead of proceeding to a fall, which would simply have opened a new line of the coast-edge, became, from some hindering cause, prematurely arrested midway, and has remained so fixed. This is not the only instance which I remarked of parallelism to Lundy in phenomena; though the geological formation of that rocky islet is very different, being granite.

At length I approached the southern extremity of the isle, passing through another village called Southwell, or, as it is pronounced "Suthill," and coming into sight of the two white lighthouses that are erected above the Bill. It is remarkable how generally the names of the hamlets contain the word " well,” showing, doubtless, that the existence of a spring of water was the determining cause of the position of a village. Here I turned off to the left, deferring to another occasion a sight of the extreme point or Bill, for lack of time, as I was desirous of exploring another singular natural curiosity, Keeve's Hole. Over a breadth of ploughed land, sown with clover in strips, I made my way towards the edge of the cliff, but before reaching it came suddenly on an oval pit about eighteen yards long by eleven wide, and ten feet deep in the middle where the flat bed of stone is uncovered. The central part of this bed has dropped away, and through the aperture, the thickness of the stratum being about three feet, I looked down into an ample cavern. The interior was somewhat dark, but sufficient light was admitted to allow of the sides and bottom being obscurely discerned ; a light which came not from the orifice in the roof through which I was peering, but from a gallery which, with some windings, opened on the face of the cliff, and through which the waves of the sea were dashing with a reverberating roar. I could scarcely look down into the abyss without a shuddering dread, which was not diminished by the story told me by a lad near, of a foolhardy fellow who, to elicit the admiration of his comrades, must needs jump across the chasm. He failed to make good his footing, and fell through into the cavern, which, as well as I could judge, is about fifty feet deep. Strange to say, he was not killed, nor materially hurt; and his companions having procured ropes from the neighbouring lighthouse got him out, frightened, and it may be charitably hoped, somewhat instructed by the adventure. Whether the name of Keefe's, Keeve's, or Cave's Hole, as it is variously written, was derived from this involuntary explorer, I could not learn.

The sea-cliffs all about this part are highly picturesque and romantic. The strata of stone are quite horizontal, resembling courses of masonry; and the action of the waves and weather in the lapse of ages has worn away the softer portions, producing a succession of caverns, supported by uncouth pillars, with projecting groins and buttresses. Sometimes these caves run into the solid land ; at others they open out again upon the sea at a little distance, making long corridors, or short series of arched vaults, and, occasionally, as in the example of Keeve's Hole just described, the yielding of the roof makes a skylight in the interior; so that the various effects of the light struggling with the gloom in these caves are the most picturesque imaginable.

The sense of grandeur, too, is greatly augmented by the perpetual moaning and roaring of the sea, which breaks upon the foot of the rocks, and as it rolls inward reverberates from the interior ;-a sound indefinitely prolonged along the sinuous coast.

κύμα πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης,

Αιγιαλο μεγαλο βρέμεται, σμαραγεί δέ τε πόντος. A slender thread of water falling from the top of the cliff over the mouth


of these cavities, greatly increased the romantic effect ; after rainy weather I can well suppose it a fine columnar cascade, though now it was small.

South of these arches the cliffs become low and shelving, so that it was not difficult to scramble down to the water-side. The wash of the sea, however, was much too great to make it anything of a collecting ground. Besides the smooth Anemone, a few Trochi and Purpuræ, a Tansy or two (Blennius pholis), and other equally common things, no animal life was visible. Algæ were fine, of certain species. Laminaria digitata was waving in great magnificence; and that singular plant Himanthalia lorea, consisting of long and slender thongs springing from the centre of a flat button : Chondrus, Rhodymenia, Ceramium and Polysiphonia, of common sorts, were all luxuriant in the sheltered nooks between the boulders. I got also some deep-red mossy tufts of the delicate Callithamnion byssoideum, growing on the stems of other Algæ ; but on the whole my excursion was fruitless in respect to natural history, though prolific in entertainment.

A trip to Dardle Door is also pleasingly described ; we prefer, however, some account of the long narrow inlet called the Fleet, which is divided by the renowned Chesil Bank- one of the most singular and most extensive ridges of pebbles in the world—from the sea of West Bay; and which runs up to a length of ten miles, forming at the extremity a swannery of about a thousand swans. This creek is the resort in winter of the wild swan, as well as of many other species of waterfowl:

I was curious to observe what zoological features so remarkable a water might furnish ; and though I did not obtain much, some peculiarities were noticed. The little pools left isolated, and the shallow indentations of the muddy shore were tenanted by multitudes of little fishes, which were lying motionless in great numbers, but shot away so invariably on the approach of a footfall that it was difficult to ascertain their nature. By perseverance, however, I captured several, and found them to be the One-spotted Goby (Gobius unipunctatus); a tiny fish about two inches long, and well marked by a spot of rich dark blue on the dorsal fin. It proved a lively and pleasing tenant of the Aquarium.

Lying flat on the mud, in many cases with not more than an inch of water above them, enjoying the light and warmth of the sun, were multitudes of Pleuronectidæ of several species, such as the Brill, the Plaice, the Dab, and the Sole. All that I saw were very young, from an inch to two inches in length. Though easily caught, they are of little value, for they do not live long in a tank, and are uninteresting from their sluggish habits, as they lie perfectly still on the bottom for hours together, trusting for concealment to the similarity of their russet colour to that of the sand.

By digging in the sand some specimens of the Launce (Ammodytes) were discovered ; a slender silvery fish, which has the habit of burrowing into the wet sand on the retreat of the tide ; and also some Bivalves, as Pullastra aurea, and Venus casina. But the most interesting thing to me was the great multitudes of Actiniæ that were expanding their flower-like disks on the surface of the mud below the shallow water. I was for some time disposed to consider this as a strange species, partly from its colour, but principally from what appeared to me its unusual locality and habit; but I am at length persuaded that it is the Daisy Anemone (A. bellis); though widely differing from those individuals which dwell in the hollows of the honeycomb limestone near Torquay.

Still more striking is the description of the fishing village of Chesil, and of its neighbourhood :

It has an aspect of venerable antiquity, arising chiefly from its being built, even to the poorest fisherinen's huts, of massive stone ; the door-posts, the window-sills, the lintels, all of the grey freestone, which constitutes the staple of the island. The vast overhanging cliffs of the west side, add to the grandeur, and impart an awfulness to the scene, which reminded me of an exhumed town. The people visible were few, and those were still, grave, and seemingly only half awake, quite unlike the “ fast-living” people that one is accustomed to see in these days. Two or three sailors lounging in as many of the little stone-porches, a superannuated fisherman with palsied fingers weaving a mat of spunyarn, a little girl with pitcher on her shoulder going for water to the brook, and a woman or two half up the steep, and almost over the houses, hanging out clothes, made up about the sum total of the moving population.

Indications of the habits and doings of the village, however, there were. At every second door nets were hung out to dry; and pieces of water-logged timber, splintered and torn by tempests, collections of rusty nails and ironwork, crumpled sheets of green copper, old blocks, and fragments of cordage, were heaped up beneath the windows, or lay in the porticoes at every turn. Fishing and wrecking were evidently the characteristic means of living here.

I walked along the margin of the shore, where the transparent wavelets of the wide, horizonless sea were washing the pebbles, and producing a constant succession of whispering cadences, that fell musically, the voices of the manysounding sea. Medusæ, by scores, were washed up, the common Aurelia aurita, lying helpless on the shingle like cakes of jelly, each marked with four rings of purple. These were the first Acalephs I had seen this season, and, well pleased I was to see them.

Wearisome walking it is over the pebbly beach ; the loose stones give away beneath the tread, and at every step the foot sinks in above the shoe-top. How wonderful to reflect that, with such an apparently feeble, ever shifting material, the Almighty has curbed the wildest fury of the raging sea, and made its very rage build up its own barrier!

“Who shut up the sea with doors, when brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb ? When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddling band for it; and brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors; and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here sball thy proud waves be stayed ?”—JOB, xxxviii. 8—11.

Several mackerel boats were hauled up on the beach, and, while I stood, a party of stalwart fellows in Guernsey frocks and deck boots came running down with rudder and oars, and, launching one of the skiffs, put to sea, for a report prevails that a shoal of mackerel has been seen in the offing, their first appearance this season. Enormous lobster-pots lay about, to which those used in Weymouth Bay are toys, and a stout rope beset at intervals with great cork-floats, displayed the device by which the position of these cages is marked, and the manner in which they are raised for examination ; while just off shore a line of well-boxes was floating, in which the captured Crustaceans are kept prisoners of war, till occasion serves for conveying them to market.

And with this characteristic extract, which reminds us of a picture by a Dutch master, we must bid good-by to Mr. Gosse, hopiog to meet him again another summer still surveying his inexhaustible fields of research, and taking us in his agreeable company to some other pleasant spot, made doubly pleasant by his instructive observations.



LIFE OF LORD METCALFE.* CHARLES THEOPHILUS, first and last Lord Metcalfe, was born in Calcutta on the 30th of January, 1785. His father, Major Metcalfe, realised a fortune as “agent for military stores,” returned to England when Charles was still young, and having bought a house in Portlandplace, became soon after M.P. and an East India director.

There were other sons besides Charles, and after a brief schooling at Bromley, in Middlesex, the two eldest, Charles being then eleven years of age, were entered at Eton. As a schoolboy, it appears that he was quiet and retiring—was neither a cricketer nor a boater, but a great reader, and with a strong literary turn, sending anecdotes to the Naval Chronicle, and enlivening the Military Journal with his Etonian lucubrations.

Major Metcalfe being an East India director, the career of his sons was chalked out for them before they were almost old enough to know what to anticipate. A China writership, Mr. Kaye remarks, was, in those days, the best bit of preferment in the world. It was a certain fortune in a very few years. And, accordingly, Theophilus, the eldest, was despatched to China, while Charles had his writership assigned to him in Calcutta.

Charles was not at this time so young but that, before he left this country, he owned that power which is destined to sway all some time or other in their lives.

It was arranged, therefore, that Theophilus should sail for China in the spring, and that Charles should embark for Calcutta in the summer. In the mean while the boys were to enjoy themselves as best they could. Charles, though of a retiring disposition, did not dislike society; and there were a few families, in the neighbourhood of his father's house, to whom he was a frequent visitor. In one of these there was a young lady, a little older than himself, with whom he fell in love at first sight. He was first introduced to her, on the day after he left Eton, at a ball in his father's house. After that event he frequently saw her, either at his own house or her mother's. The charms of the young lady, not merely those of external beauty and grace, made a deep and abiding impression on his mind; and he was long afterwards of opinion, that this boyish attachment, pure and disinterested as it was, had a beneficial influence on his character. He corresponded with her for some time afterwards, and her “sensible letters heightened his admiration.” They are almost the only part of his correspondence which has not survived him. The exception tells its own story.

The circumstance was, however, notwithstanding the kindly view the

[ocr errors]

* The Life and Correspondence of Charles, Lord Metcalfe ; late GovernorGeneral of India, Governor of Jamaica, and Governor-General of Canada. From Unpublished Letters and Journals preserved by Himself, his Family, and his Friends. By John William Kaye. London: Richard Bentley. 1854. Oct.-VOL. CII. NO. CCCCVI.


« AnteriorContinuar »