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Amusing as well as learned, I remember his telling a story of one of his parishioners, whom he found one cold, wet and windy night, standing shivering under the archway which spans the high road, over which the Somerset and Dorset Railway runs at Shillingstone. Wondering what the man could be doing, standing on a cold wet night in the most draughty place imaginable, the Canon asked him what he did there, and the reply was, "Please, sir, I be going to sing bass next Sunday in the anthem and I be trying to catch a hooze" (wheeze).
The family name of Legg is to be met with in many parishes in Dorset. In a western Dorset village a family of farmers of this name prospered much, and it coming to their knowledge that the name of Legg, spelt with a final "e," bore a more aristocratic appear. ance, they took to spelling it in the same way as the Earl of Dartmouth's family. They were not, however, satisfied with improving upon their own use of their patronymic, but carried the matter a stage further, employing the local stone-mason to cut a final "e" upon quite a number of monuments in the churchyard, erected to deceased members of their family. This beatifiIcation of their ancestors aroused the resentment of the parishioners, and the result was that hammers and chisels went to work, and the offending "e" was forthwith deleted from all the monuments. And there they stand to this day, for any one to see, with a large chip out of the stone after the name of Legg, whenever it occurs.
One of the most attractive of the rural rectors of Dorset, a man upright in all his ways, gentle, devout, winning and beloved by all his village folk, was wont to assist them in many little secular affairs of life, as well as in spiritual matters. An old shepherd who lived in the parish had some little property to dispose of, and he asked
the kindly rector to help him to make his will. The rector duly wrote it out, had it duly witnessed, and for safe custody it was handed to the rector to keep. A few years passed away, and the old shepherd was laid at rest, and his relatives came to the rector for the will. Nowhere could the will be found. Methodical pigeon-holing for future reference was not a strong point with the rector. After the lapse of some months, and still no will forthcoming, the relatives suggested that the rector should apportion the old shepherd's property among them. The rector was still in trouble, for he could not recall the intentions of the testator. But feeling that a responsibility devolved upon him to bring about some solution of the difficulty, he grappled with it as best he could, and apportioned the property to the entire satisfaction of the surviving relatives. Time passed on, and some two years later, in the pocket of his writing desk, he found the lost will, and then to his dismay discovered that his apportionment in no respect complied with the terms of the will. What was to be done? After pondering over the situation for a while, he took the belated will and consigned it to the flames of his study fire. The relatives were left in undisturbed harmony, but the old shepherd's wishes were never carried out. Who can say that the rector's happy ignorance of the penalties of the law was not all for the best, and that in such a case "twere folly to be wise?"
A familiar figure on market days in the county town of Dorset for many a long year was William Barnes, the Dorset poor man's poet, quaintly attired in slouch hat, knee-breeches and buckled shoes, with a Scotch plaid wound about him, and a stout staff in his hand. He seemed to prefer the middle of the street to the pavement, and to be thinking of matters which had nothing to do with the scene before
him. Halting at the four cross ways in the centre of the town, he would pull his old-fashioned watch from a deep fob and set it by the town clock. Having completed this first act, he turned about, and methodically proceeded about the other business which brought him on Saturdays into town.
William Barnes sang his songs in his native Doric almost all in the early fifties, much as a bird trills out its ditty, and they soon got fast hold of the people whose dialect they were written in. Grave and gay, they touched all hearts. Before saying something of the humor of William Barnes, let me quote one stanza from "The Voices that be gone."
How mother, when we us'd to stun
How she do wish, wi' useless tears,
Before William Barnes took Orders, and settled down in a country living, he kept a school, and in the early days of the Indian Civil Service examinations, one of his pupils, with no tuition other than what he received from Barnes, came out at the top of the list of successful candidates. His master forthwith deluged with letters from parents offering him their sons as pupils, but, with modesty and humor, William Barnes wrote to decline their offers, saying "it took two to do it."
On the little lawn of the poet's picturesque rectory at Came, there used to crouch two lions in stone. When little children came to visit him, he used to excite their interest and curiosity by telling them that "the lions always roared when they heard the clock strike twelve." William Barnes was very fond of children and used to wish that people would record more
children's sayings. A lady told him of a question put to her in the Sundayschool: "Please, ma'am, does God keep His angels in bottles?" "No, my dear, why should He?" "Please, ma'am, because mother keeps her spirits in bottles." William Barnes at once observed, "A child's reasoning is mostly right, its premises are often wrong from ignorance, but its observation is right as far as it goes." A propos of preserving the sayings of children, I may here relate the observation of a small Dorset boy, made to me at a children's dance, some few years ago. Seeing that he had been dancing the whole evening with one little girl, but that at the moment of speaking to him she had apparently found another partner, I said, "How is it, Reggie, that you are not dancing with Susy this dance?" "Oh!" replied the diminutive lord of creation, "I have lent her to Tom for this dance."
A Dorset doctor of somewhat boastful temperament was dining one day at a big dinner party, when the conversation after dinner turned upon the army as a profession. The doctor remarked that his parents had made a great mistake in not sending him into the army, for which he declared himself eminently fit. "Oh, you make a great mistake," said a Dorset squire across the table; "you would not have killed half as many if you had gone into the army as you have in your own profession."
A great character among the shepherds of Dorset was one "Nat" Seale. A solitary shepherd upon the downs of Dorset, through his long life of fourscore years and ten, he was brimful of native wit. Religious topics were not to his mind. The curate of Fordington, where the old shepherd spent the last few years of his life, tried on many occasions to get "Nat" to talk on religious subjects, but he always turned the conversation. At last, one
day, the curate got him so far as to speak to him of Christ, when the old man, turning upon him, said, "Well, He were the Good Shepherd, wer'n't He?" The curate assenting, the old shepherd added, with strong emphasis, "Well, I tell'ee what I believe. I don't believe as one Shepherd will ever round upon another shepherd"-savoring something of the philosophy of Omar the tent maker, "He's a good fellow, and 'twill all be well." So ended this portion of their conversation, and not another word would the old shepherd say upon the subject.
Another Dorset shepherd, "Rifleman" Harris of Blandford, fought through the Peninsular War, and has left one of the very few records of past campaigns, as seen from the point of view of a soldier in the ranks. The Dorset shepherds were a small race of men, and the Dorset regiment, which in the long war at the beginning of the century was largely recruited from among them, went by the sobriquet of "The Little Shepherds." Rifleman Harris, himself only five feet five inches in height, had an intense dislike for tall men, and makes all his villains over six feet. In the retreat from Vigo, he avers that the tall men were the greatest grumblers, the greatest eaters and the worst fighters, and bore fatigue much worse than the short soldiers.
Dorset soldiers in the ranks have not, however, all been diminutive. geant Davy of the Guards, who fought through the Crimean War, stood well over six feet in his shoes. I remember his telling me that as they were settling down into a gallop for a terrific charge, the bullets hissing round them, his mate who rode next him shouted out: "This is a damned rum way of earning a living, ain't it, Bill?”
The cenotaph to the great Duke of Wellington, which stands in St. Paul's Cathedral, was the work of a genuine Blandford boy, Alfred Stevens, whose
father was a tradesman in that town, and his mother the daughter of a neighboring farmer. This grand monument, the finest of its kind produced in this century, and equal to the best work of the period of the Italian Renaissance, occupied many years of his life, and although for by the State, its creator was ill requited for his labors. Alfred Stevens intended to complete this monument with an equestrian statue of the Duke; but he counted without the Dean and Chapter, who put their veto upon this, on the ground that a horse was a profane animal, which led Punch to ask whether the Dean and Chapter would prefer a donkey.
Our village milkman, some years ago now, rejoiced in the patronymic of Meagher, and the milk he vended only too often corresponded in quality with his name. So much did the village folk resent the poverty of his milk, that in the small hours of one winter's night some of them called him out of bed, telling him to come down without delay, as his best cow was choking. Down hurried old Meagher, to find all right in the dairy, and only a carrot stuck in the nozzle of the pump.
The rector of a parish not far from Weymouth was complaining to one of his women parishioners that she did not bring her children to be baptized. "Please, sir," she said, "they be all girls and it's no use baptizing they." The rector was puzzled, and then discovered that the good woman thought the main object of baptism was to ensure what she called "lines"-in other words a baptismal certificate needed for boys who want to enter the Navy.
Dorset cheese, locally known as "blue vinny," enjoys a doubtful reputation. When first made, it is of the color and almost the consistency of the chalk which underlies the Dorset downs. After keeping a while it takes on a pale, blue-veined (vinney'd) appearance, and
becomes, though always hard, more palatable. William Barnes, after reading some of his poems one evening to a large gathering of the Dorset militia, propounded a riddle which went home to them. "Tell me, my men," said he, "why the Dorset militia is like blue vinny." "Because," he added, "they'll both stand fire and never run." His joke at the unmelting moods of Dorset cheese was thoroughly appreciated. Another story anent blue vinny relates how two Gillingham farmers differing as to the merits of blue vinny, the detractor of its qualities offered to bet the other a sovereign that he could not get two Dorset cheeses stolen. The bet being taken, it was arranged that at bedtime a cheese should be left on the doorstep when the house was locked up, to see if any one would take it away by the morning. Next morning the cheese was gone, to the great delight of the backer of blue vinny, and the following night the second cheese was duly locked out on the doorstep. Next day, to his great chagrin, both of the cheeses lay side by side on the doorstep.
Lectures delivered in Dorset have not been without their humorous side. Not long ago a "Universities Extension" lecturer gave a course of lectures upon Dante, which was largely attended by young women from the neighboring country houses and rectories. The first lecture was mainly taken up with a description of the definiteness and neatness of Dante's "Inferno," "accurately separated into circles with wellpointed compasses; mapped and properly surveyed in every direction, trenched in a thoroughly good style of engineering, and divided into a concentric series of moats and embankments like those about a castle, with bridges from each embankment to the next" (Ruskin, "Modern Painters"). The whole lecture was represented by but three words on the notes of one of
the listeners; her terse record was, "Hell very neat."
Another series of lectures was given in connection with higher religious education, attended in the main by the same class of students as the Dante lectures. The first group of lectures in this series was upon the Fourth Gospel, and the lecturer laid great stress upon the authenticity of the Gospel as written by St. John. At the close of the lectures an examination by papers was held, and in half the papers sent up grave doubts were expressed as to St. John being the author of the Fourth Gospel. As in all probability not one of those attending the lectures had, before the lectures were given, so much as heard that the point was in dispute, the lecturer was naturally much distressed to find that he had raised doubts where none previously existed -that his labors to prove the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel had had precisely the opposite result.
A widower in a somewhat prominent position in life had inscribed upon his late wife's tomb, "The light of mine eyes is gone from me." Taking unto himself a second wife with remarkable promptitude, a Dorset yokel scrawled as his comment upon the text set forth upon the tablet, "But he soon struck another match."
A kind-hearted and wealthy man, who had from small beginnings built up a large fortune, used to allow the public to freely traverse two of his estates. He had put up a notice, ask. ing for good conduct from his visitors, and stating that "the two estates is the property of So-and-so, Esq." Some humorous passer-by struck out the word "is," and wrote over it "am." The owner of the property, seeing the alteration, turned to a friend who was with him, and in all innocence asked "which was right?" His companion gently suggested that it might be even better if the word "are" was substituted.
Mr. Francis Fane, who first sat for Dorchester in 1790, was desperately fond of practical joking, and travelling one day to London inside the coach, the heavily laden pocket in the coat-tail of the Dorchester barber who was outside hung down temptingly near the open window. Mr. Fane could not resist the opportunity of slitting the barber's pocket and extracting its contents, which proved to be a large packet of bank notes, which had been entrusted to the barber to deliver safely in London. When the barber discovered his loss, his dismay was great, and after he had been reduced to a state of desperation, Mr. Fane produced the packet of notes, and by way of amends proposed to give the barber a dinner at the White Horse Cellar in London. The dinner took place on the afternoon fixed for the barber's return to Dorchester, and the barber waxing mellow, plied with good liquor, Mr. Fane assisted him into the night coach for Dorchester in Oxfordshire, where the bewildered barber in the early hours of the morning could neither find his pole nor his local landmark, the town pump, hard by which was his shop.
Times were rougher in those days than now. "Hangings" were then looked forward to, as a pleasant break in the dulness of life. Said an old Dorset shepherd, pointing to where the gibbet stood on the wild downs near Cranbourne, "A hanging was a pretty sight when I were a boy, for the sheriff and javelin men came a horseback, and they all stopped for refreshment at the inn near by, as they'd come a long way, and we all had a drink." "And did the man who was going to be hanged have anything?" "Lord! yes, sir, as much strong beer as he liked, and we all drank his health; and The Cornhill Magazine.
then they hanged he, and buried him by the gibbet."
The gay wit of Lord Alington needs no bush. When county councils were established in 1889 Lord Alington stood for a division in Dorset as a county councillor, and had for an opponent a county parson from the neighborhood. The parson, carried away by the fervor of the contest, told his would-be constituents, in somewhat. rhetorical language, that he "was prepared to die for them." In spite of this generous offer, when the contest was over, it was found that Lord Alington had been returned by a thumping majority. In his address that evening to the electors, thanking them for his election, Lord Alington humorously said that he had "no intention whatever of dying for his constituents, he meant to live for them, and he thought that they had shown, by electing him, that they considered that "a live lord was better than a dead parson."
Early in the nineties a close parliamentary contest was waged for the Southern Division of Dorset, and shortly after the election was over, the elected member and the defeated candidate attended an agricultural dinner, when it fell to the lot of the latter to propose the toast of the Houses of Parliament. The dinner was held in a large marquee, which was creaking and groaning under the strain of a boisterous storm of wind and wet raging outside. The speaker, in making reference to his successful opponent, happily said "that whatever might have been their respective feelings on a recent occasion, on that particular day they were in complete accord, for they were both of them entirely satisfied, not only with the state of the canvass, but also with the state of the poll" (pole).