Description

This "Dickens-Land" was written by J. A. (John Arnold) Nicklin in English language.

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Dickens-Land
By
J. A. (John Arnold)
Nicklin

Page 2

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Dickens-Land, by J. A. Nicklin
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Title: Dickens-Land
Author: J. A. Nicklin
Illustrator: E. W. Haslehust
Release Date: December 20, 2008 [EBook #27572]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
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CHALK, HOUSE WHERE DICKENS SPENT HIS HONEYMOON
DICKENS-LAND
Described by J. A. NICKLIN
Pictured by E. W. HASLEHUST

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BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED LONDON
GLASGOW AND BOMBAY
1911
Beautiful England
Volumes Ready
O
XFORD
THE
H
EART
OF
W
ESSEX
T
HE
E
NGLISH
L
AKES
THE
P
EAK
D
ISTRICT
C
ANTERBURY
THE
C
ORNISH
R
IVIERA
S
HAKESPEARE
-L
AND
DICKENS
-L
AND
T
HE
T
HAMES
WINCHESTER
W
INDSOR
C
ASTLE
THE
I
SLE
OF
W
IGHT

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C
AMBRIDGE
CHESTER
AND
THE
D
EE
N
ORWICH
AND
THE
B
ROADS
YORK
Uniform with this Series
Beautiful Ireland
LEINSTER
MUNSTER
ULSTER
ULSTER
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Page
Chalk, House where Dickens spent his
honeymoon
Frontispiece
Gadshill Place from the Gardens
8
Rochester from Strood
14
Restoration House, Rochester
20
Cobham Park
26
Cooling Church
32
Aylesford
38
Maidstone, All Saints' Church and the
Palace
42
Jasper's Gateway
46
Chalk Church
50
Shorne Church
54
The Leather Bottle, Cobham
58
[5]

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The central shrine of a literary cult is at least as often its hero's home of
adoption as his place of birth. To the Wordsworthian, Cockermouth has but a
faint, remote interest in comparison with Grasmere and Rydal Mount.
Edinburgh, for all its associations with the life and the genius of Scott, is not as
Abbotsford, or as that beloved Border country in which his memory has struck
its deepest roots. And so it is with Dickens. The accident of birth attaches his
name but slightly to Landport in South-sea. The Dickens pilgrim treads in the
most palpable footsteps of "Boz" amongst the landmarks of a Victorian
London, too rapidly disappearing, and through the "rich and varied landscape"
on either side of the Medway, "covered with cornfields and pastures, with here
and there a windmill or a distant church", which Dickens loved from boyhood,
peopled with the creatures of his teeming fancy, and chose for his last and
most-cherished habitation.
What Abbotsford was to Scott, that, almost, to Dickens in his later years was
Gadshill Place. From his study window in the "grave red-brick house" "on his
little Kentish freehold"—a house which he had "added to and stuck bits upon in
all manner of ways, so that it was as pleasantly irregular and as violently
opposed to all architectural ideas as the most hopeful man could possibly
desire"—he looked out, so he wrote to a friend, "on as pretty a view as you will
find in a long day's English ride.... Cobham Park and Woods are behind the
house; the distant Thames is in front; the Medway, with Rochester and its old
castle and cathedral, on one side." On every side he could not fail to reach, in
those brisk walks with which he sought, too strenuously, perhaps, health and
relaxation, some object redolent of childish dreams or mature achievement, of
intimate joys and sorrows, of those phantoms of his brain which to him then, as
to hundreds of thousands of his readers since, were not less real than the men
and women of everyday encounter. On those seven miles between Rochester
and Maidstone, which he discovered to be one of the most beautiful walks in
England, he might be tempted to strike off at Aylesford for a short stroll to such
a pleasant old Elizabethan mansion as Cobtree Hall, the very type, it may be,
of Manor Farm, Dingley Dell, or for a longer tramp to Town Malling, from which
he may well have borrowed many strokes for the picture of Muggleton, that
[6]
[7]

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town of sturdy Kentish cricket. Sometimes he would walk across the marshes
to Gravesend, and returning through the village of Chalk, would pause for a
retrospective glance at the house where his honeymoon was spent and a good
part of
Pickwick
planned. In the latter end of the year, when he could take a
short cut through the stubble fields from Higham to the marshes lying further
down the Thames, he would often visit the desolate churchyard where little Pip
was so terribly frightened by the convict. Or, descending the long slope from
Gadshill to Strood, and crossing Rochester Bridge—over the balustrades of
which Mr. Pickwick leaned in agreeable reverie when he was accosted by
Dismal Jemmy—the author of
Great Expectations
and
Edwin Drood
would
pass from Rochester High Street—where Mr. Pumblechook's seed shop looks
across the way at Miss Twinkleton's establishment—into the Vines, to compare
once more the impression on his unerring "inward eye" with the actual features
of that Restoration House which, under another name, he assigned to Miss
Havisham, and so round by Fort Pitt to the Chatham lines. And there
—who can
doubt?—if he seemed to hear the melancholy wind that whistled through the
deserted fields as Mr. Winkle took his reluctant stand, a wretched and
desperate duellist, his thoughts would also stray to the busy dockyard town
and "a blessed little room" in a plain-looking plaster-fronted house from which
dated all his early readings and imaginings.
Between the "very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy" and the
strong, self-reliant man whose fame had filled two continents, Gadshill Place
was an immediate link. Everyone knows the story which Dickens tells of a
vision of his former self meeting him on the road to Canterbury.
"So smooth was the old high road, and so fresh were the horses,
and so fast went I, that it was midway between Gravesend and
Rochester, and the widening river was bearing the ships, white-
sailed or black-smoked, out to sea, when I noticed by the wayside
a very queer small boy.
"'Halloa!' said I to the very queer small boy, 'where do you live?'
"'At Chatham,' says he.
"'What do you do there?' say I.
"'I go to school,' says he.
"I took him up in a moment, and we went on. Presently, the very
queer small boy says, 'This is Gadshill we are coming to, where
Falstaff went out to rob those travellers and ran away.'
"'You know something about Falstaff, eh?' said I.
"'All about him,' said the very queer small boy. 'I am old (I am nine),
and I read all sorts of books. But do let us stop at the top of the hill,
and look at the house there, if you please!'
"'You admire that house?' said I.
[8]

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GADSHILL PLACE FROM THE GARDENS
"'Bless you, sir,' said the very queer small boy, 'when I was not
more than half as old as nine, it used to be a treat for me to be
brought to look at it. And now I am nine I come by myself to look at
it. And ever since I can recollect, my father, seeing me so fond of
it, has often said to me, If you were to be very persevering, and
were to work hard, you might some day come to live in it. Though
that's impossible!' said the very queer small boy, drawing a low
breath, and now staring at the house out of window with all his
might.
"I was rather amazed to be told this by the very queer small boy;
for that house happens to be
my
house, and I have reason to
believe that what he said was true."
As the queer small boy in the
Uncommercial Traveller
said, Gadshill Place is at
the very top of Falstaff's hill. It stands on the south side of the Dover road;—on
the north side, but a little lower down, is "a delightfully oldfashioned inn of the
old coaching days", the "Sir John Falstaff";—surrounded by a high wall and
screened by a row of limes. The front view, with its wooden and pillared porch,
its bays, its dormer windows let into the roof, and its surmounting bell turret and
[9]

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vane, bears much the same appearance as it did to the queer small boy. But
amongst the many additions and alterations which Dickens was constantly
making, the drawing-room had been enlarged from a smaller existing one, and
the conservatory into which it opens was, as he laughingly told his younger
daughter, "positively the last improvement at Gadshill"—a jest to prove sadly
prophetic, for it was uttered on the Sunday
before his death. The little library,
too, on the opposite side of the porch from the drawing-room and conservatory,
was a converted bedroom. Its aspect is familiar to most Dickens-lovers from Sir
Luke Fildes's famous picture of "The Empty Chair". In summer, however,
Dickens used to do his work not in the library but in a Swiss chalet, presented
to him by Fechter, the great actor, which stood in a shrubbery lying on the
other side of the highroad, and entered by a subway that Dickens had
excavated for the purpose. The chalet now must be sought in the terrace
garden of Cobham Hall. When Dickens sat at his desk in a room of the chalet,
"up among the branches of the trees", the five mirrors which he had put in
reflected "the leaves quivering at the windows, and the great fields of waving
corn, and the sail-dotted river". The birds and butterflies flew in and out, the
green branches shot in at the open windows, and the lights and shadows of
the clouds and the scent of flowers and of everything growing for miles had the
same free access. No imaginative artist, whether in words or colour, could
have desired a more inspiring environment. The back of the house, looking
southward, descends by one flight of steps upon a lawn, where one of the
balustrades of the old Rochester Bridge had, when this was demolished, been
fitted up as a
sundial. The lawn, in turn, communicates with flower and
vegetable gardens by another flight of steps. Beyond is "the much-coveted
meadow" which Dickens obtained, partly by exchange, from the trustees—not
of Watts's Charity, as Forster has stated, but of Sir Joseph Williamson's Free
School at Rochester. It was in this field that the villagers from neighbouring
Higham played cricket matches, and that, just before Dickens went to America
for the last time, he held those quaint footraces for all and sundry, described in
one of his letters to Forster. Though the landlord of the Falstaff, from over the
way, was allowed to erect a drinking booth, and all the prizes were given in
money; though, too, the road from Chatham to Gadshill was like a fair all day,
and the crowd consisted mainly of rough labouring men, of soldiers, sailors,
and navvies, there was no disorder, not a flag, rope, or stake displaced, and no
drunkenness whatever. As striking a tribute, if rightly considered, as ever was
exacted by a strong and winning personality! One of those oddities in which
Dickens delighted was elicited by a hurdle race for strangers. The man who
came in second ran 120 yards and leaped over ten hurdles with a pipe in his
mouth and smoking it all the time. "If it hadn't been for your pipe," said the
Master of Gadshill Place, clapping him on the shoulder at the winning-post,
"you would
have been first." "I beg your pardon, sir," he answered, "but if it
hadn't been for my pipe, I should have been nowhere."
To the hospitable hearth of Gadshill Place were drawn, by the fame of the
"Inimitable Boz", a long succession of brilliant men and women, mostly of the
Anglo-Saxon race, whether English or American; and if not in the throngs for
which at Abbotsford open house was kept, yet with a frequency which would
have made literary work almost impossible for the host without remarkable
[10]
[11]
[12]

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steadiness of purpose and regularity of habits. For Longfellow and his
daughters he "turned out", that they might see all of the surrounding country
which could be seen in a short stay, "a couple of postilions in the old red
jackets of the old red royal Dover road, and it was like a holiday ride in England
fifty years ago".
In his study in the late and early months, and his Swiss chalet through the
summer, Dickens would write such novels as
Great Expectations
, and the
unfinished
Mystery of Edwin Drood
, taking his local colour from spots which lay
within the compass of a reasonable walk; and others, such as
A Tale of Two
Cities
and
Our Mutual Friend
, to which the circumstances of time and place
furnished little or nothing except their influence on his mood. Some of the
occasional papers which, in the character of "The Uncommercial
Traveller", he
furnished to
All the Year Round
, have as much of the
genius loci
as any of his
romances. Even to-day the rushing swarm of motor cars has not yet driven
from the more secluded nooks of Kent all such idylls of open-air vagabondage
as this:—
"I have my eyes upon a piece of Kentish road, bordered on either
side by a wood, and having on one hand, between the road dust
and the trees, a skirting patch of grass. Wild flowers grow in
abundance on this spot, and it lies high and airy, with a distant river
stealing steadily away to the ocean, like a man's life. To gain the
milestone here, which the moss, primroses, violets, bluebells and
wild roses would soon render illegible but for peering travellers
pushing them aside with their sticks, you must come up a steep
hill, come which way you may. So, all the tramps with carts or
caravans—the gipsy tramp, the show tramp, the Cheap Jack—find
it impossible to resist the temptations of the place, and all turn the
horse loose when they come to it, and boil the pot. Bless the place,
I love the ashes of the vagabond fires that have scorched its
grass!"
The Kentish road that Dickens thus describes is certainly the Dover Road at
Gadshill, from which, of course, there is a steep declivity whether the route is
westward to Gravesend or eastwards to Strood and Rochester. In Strood itself
Dickens found little to interest him, though the view of Rochester from Strood
Hill is an arresting one, with the stately mediævalism of Castle and Cathedral
emerging from a kind of haze in which it is hard to distinguish what is smoke-
wreath and what a mass of crowding roofs. The Medway, which divides Strood
from the almost indistinguish
ably overlapping towns of Rochester, Chatham,
and Brompton, is crossed by an iron bridge, superseding the old stone
structure commemorated in
Pickwick
. Mr. Pickwick's notes on "the four towns"
do not require very much modification to apply to their present state.
[13]
[14]

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