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COCKNEY CONTRIVANCES APUD DIANAM.
CRA V EN
“Cockneys of London! Muscadins of Paris !"_BYRON.
The Simplon and Great St. Bernard are as familiar as Fleet Street to any “ gent." you meet cultivating his taste for travel on board a Gravesend steamer ; and probably there is not a young lady to be found at a Mansion-House ball that has not the legend of every
crag on the Rhine, from the Seven Mountains to the bridge of Mayence, at her fingers' ends. Adopting this as a standard of modern geographical knowledge, it would not be assuming too much to set down the population of May Fair as thoroughly versed in the scenery of Arabia Folix, and possessing very fair practical views of the Great Desert, and the interior of Africa generally. Such being the state of our topographical learning at the present day, in this present place, “ given at London this 22nd day of February, 1847," or anything like it being the fact ; admitting that cosmopolicy attains greatly amongst us, what should you suppose to be a cockney's enlightenment as to the immediate neighbourhood of his own especial metropolis ? That he could walk blindfold to Shakspeare's Oak, or follow his nose over Finchley without light enough to see the tip of it? It were but natural : nevertheless, it were a conclusion considerably wide of the truth. If you have any doubts, inquire of the first intellectual young man you meet at " a tea party,” or any party-to polka inclusive—in which of our suburban districts there is a subterraneous river to be met with, like the Alpheus of the Peloponnesus (recorded in Strabo). Or put the question, leaving out the Peloponnesus and the other Latin altogether; and see what sort of an answer you'll get. It may be a simple conceit, but I cannot help thinking ninety-nine men out of a hundred want a martingale to keep their heads in the right place. They are always too much abroad, and don't look sufficiently under their feet either for safety or pleasure. Your London particular has gazed carefully across the Atlantic, but never given a thought to his domestic domains, unless accident or some extrinsic influence brought them within his field of vision. It is the act of a friend to do this for him, and peradventure, the cause of philanthropy may benefit by it too. We will say to him, therefore—ride afield with us this fair young springtide. On every hand of your Great Metropolis spread scenes full worthy the contemplative man of every class. We assume your bias to be for the boon sports of flood and field—tam marti quam Mercurio—both for Nimrod and Izaak Walton. With your leave, then, we will select “Surrey for the field,” and sally towards the place of that mysterious stream, which, in sober Albion, performs the freaks of that subterraneous river of Greece, that dives under the sea from Elis to Arethusa.
Why don't people make use of the horse more than they do? If desirous of a pleasure excursion, they turn instinctively to their saddles ; but nobody ever thinks of making horseback a means of serious travel. If first-class carriages be not cradles for the gout, I know nothing of the birth and parentage of podagra. What's to hinder a stalwart citizen mounting his slapping well-bred gelding, and riding down of a summer Saturday afternoon to join his friends at Brighton or Hastings, or any where else within fifty miles of his stable yard ?--the value of his time? George Coombe, the phrenologist—and philosopher of the Bacon school, as opposed to that of Plato-has a very pleasant illustration of this fallacy. . . . . A gentleman, extensively engaged in business, whose nervous and digestive systems had been impaired by neglect of the organic laws, was desired to walk in the open air at least one hour a day ; to repose from all exertion, bodily and mental, for one full hour after breakfast, and one full hour after dinner, because the brain cannot expend its energy to good purpose in thinking and aiding digestion at the same time; and to practise moderation in diet. This last injunction he regularly observed ; but he laughed at the very idea of having three hours à day to spare for attention to his health. The reply was, that the organic laws admit of no exception : that he must either obey them or take the consequences ; but that the time lost in enduring the punishment would be double or treble that requisite for obedience : and the fact was so. Instead of fulfilling an appointment, it is quite usual for him to send a note, perhaps at two in the afternoon, in these terms. .. "I was so distressed with headache last night, that I never closed my eyes ; and to-day I am still incapable of being out of bed.” On other occasions he is out of bed, but apologises for incapacity to attend to business, in consequence of an intolerable pain in the region of the stomach.... Listen, 0 Alderman Calipash! and give ear, 0 Common Councilman Calipee! Send your spouses and et cæteras to Brighton at Easter, there to sojourn till Michaelmas. Ride down to them every Saturday, and off again to business every Monday--storm or shine so shall ye have, besides the blessing vouchsafed the tender husband and parent, impunity of turtle, and carte blanche for cold punch.
It is, as aforesaid, a pleasant vernal morning, and we are about to ride forth in search of the practically picturesque ; which means, somewhere to cultivate rural sports, as well as rural sights. Suppose we make the best of our way over Clapham Common : we can hardly do better than break our fast at honest Lumley's, boniface of the Spread Eagle, at Epsom. By and bye a change will come over " the spirit of his dream ;” but though the company thereabouts at this season be few, the cheer is none the worse. .
Admit that pullet was artistically devilled ; all the merit of the tea was not in the excellence of the cream.
What does that broth of a waiter say about coursing ?--that they have a dinner to-day, and a meeting of the lovers of the leash, at the Swan, at Leatherhead ? Unsophisticated youth ! such is the order in thy catalogue raisonée ; let us reverse it, and taste the air and test the hare of those glorious downs. Our London particular makes no objection, but putting a small matter of Cognac on the top of the devilled fowl, an undeniable Havannah into his mouth, and himself under our guidance, behold us steering for the Land of the West! And now upon the recipe of William Shakspeare, having, after filling our veins, again ?"
a supply “ of suppler souls,” forthwith our discourse becomes energetic ; we seek to beguile the way with talk and tale-delectando pariterque monendo. And here first I propound the question
“ Have you ever heard of the Mole, which runs underground from Boxhill to Leatherhead ?"
“Lord bless me!” said the cockney, "no! what a long burrowor, excuse the pun, what a monstrous bore !”
“Ah!" I replied, " you take me zoologically ; I was speaking geologically : the Mole is a subterraneous river, flowing in those parts some three miles below the earth, as the Guadiana does in Spain.'
He had never heard of the Guadiana, which was strange, seeing it is a good way off ; and I forgot to try him upon the Alpheus. Of course he knew nothing of the Mole ; he had never heard the word, save as applied to a small mining animal so called.
“ Let us have a look at this . rum river,'” cried the astonished citizen; " whereabouts does it go down, and how the deuce does it come up
“ It disappears at the Swallows," I rejoined-he looked as if he thought I was cramming him—" in the neighbourhood of Boxhill, and comes to light again near Thorncroft—it's true, honour bright. Did you never hear of the way this peculiarity was turned to account once upon a time, by a fishing party ?”
I might have spared myself this question, as, being sensible that he had never before known there was such a stream in existence, it was not probable he was aware of any piscatory incident connected with its history. But there is a conventionalism in random reveries,
“I'll tell you the story,” I continued, as we go along ; there will be time enough for a survey of the Mole before the coursing begins, and we can learn the line they beat at the Swan.”
Thus premising, to the best of my memory I put together the following details :-—“De Foe, than whom no story-teller ever lied more like truth, was once a sojourner in this part of Surrey. In his Tour through Great Britain, he states that in the reign of the Merry Monarch, in October, 1676, there occurred a very sudden and hasty flood in the Mole, which swelled that river to a very great height, and particularly so high at Betchworth Castle, and at other gentlemen's seats near to its banks, where they had fish-ponds which were fed by it, that it overflowed these ponds, and carried away the fish they contained. Sir Adam Brown at that time lived at Betchworth Castle, and his son and the young gentlemen in the neighbourhood, disturbed at the loss of their fish, came all down to Dorking, where they raised a little troop of the young fellows and boys of the town, and all went together to that part of the river which runs by the foot of the Stomacher, at Box-hill. There was a low flat piece of meadow ground lying close to the river on one side, just opposite to which the hill, lying also close to the river, made up the bank on the other side. This piece of ground might contain about four or five acres, and lying hollow in the middle, like the shape of a dripping-pan, was, by the overflowing of the river, so full of water, that the bank which lay close to the river, though higher than the rest, was not to be seen. The gentlemen set themselves to raise this bank, so as to separate the water in the hollow pool of the field from that in the river, and then made a return to it at the upper or east end of the
field, so that no more water could run into the field from any other part of the river. And the event was that in about two nights and a day, exclusive of the time they took in making their dams, the water sunk all away in the field, and the fish being surrounded, were caught, as it were, in a trap, and the practice fully recompensed their labour, for the like quantity of fish, great and small, I believe were never taken at once in this kingdom out of so small a river.” This story, he goes on to say, he relates to demonstrate the means by which the Mole loses itself under ground—" or becomes swallowed up, as they call it—for this field where the water sunk away is near the village of Mickleham, and under the precipice of the hill, and yet the water was two nights and a day leisurely sinking off, and in this manner--and in no other-does so much of the river as passes under ground sink away.”
Thus doth Daniel De Foe bear record—but for the poetry of the thing we will presume that his record is not true. Beyond all question there are great fissures to be seen, through which portions of the current are drawn ; and, on the whole, very probably the Mole is quite as honest a subterraneous river as the Alpheus or the Guadiana. fit fishing for the most curious in the craft, and efficiently classic for the moderately fastidious. Pope has chronicled it as
“The sullen Mole, that hides its diving flood." Thompson, Milton, Drayton, Spenser-all have sung its peculiar properties : could any suburban stream aspire to more ?
The English county which presents the largest surface of wild heath and black waste is that upon which also stands a large portion of our metropolis. Muse on the banks of the Thames, and on the borders of Bagshot or Woking, and
“Look upon this picture, and on this." How many of our travel-taught geographers are aware that within easy distance of St. James's there lies a desert so vast as to occupy a distance of nearly thirty miles. Yet such is the district commencing at Ascot Heath, in Berkshire, and reaching to Bexley Heath, in Sussex. Set down the width of this “ desert idle” at five miles, you have a total of one hundred and fifty square miles, or one hundred thousand acres !
While the reader is taking breath, we will quietly ascend to the Downs, from the pretty little town of Leatherhead-having just learned at the Swan, where there was a very obvious odour of dinner-that thereon was the site of the day's coursing. This paper--he has been advertised by the title—is devoted to the treatment of certain sporting devices, in which those who are constrained to make the modern Babel their hunting seat are wont to indulge. It is to put down a monopoly of Leatherhead Downs-should any such exist—that it is written ; because a spot more suited to the dispensation of health unbought, or jovial exercise put appropriately on the scene, it would be hard to compass or conceive. He never imagined that the words “ Cockney Contrivances were meant to apply disparagingly. Is there anything very contemptible in the idea of a slice of Cockney salmon, or the notion of London particular Madeira ? It is a very foolish prejudice, and may be a very mischievous one, to suppose that among those who represent in the metropolis that class which constitutes the squirearchy and substantial yeomanry of the provinces, are not to be found men as accomplished in field
sports, if not so much to the matter born, as their rural brethren. The march of time has not only left behind it the Squire Westerns, but the Johnny Gilpins of the last century. Your journeyman tailor indeed may be still the same unchivalrous loon of whom Billy Button was the type; but' the national love of manly sports has reached, as well as fashioned every gentleman of the nation. What their merchant-princes were to the tastes of the Sea Cybele of Tasso's time, our merchant-nobles are to those of the queen-city of the ocean in these days.
On the fair spring morning, which furnishes the time of our action, the " contrivance" in operation was a little well-organized meeting for the patrons of the leash, held upon the finest sweep of uplands in the world-by grace of Mr. Felix Ledbroke. There was not a solitary point of "getting up" from the sporting couples in the slips to the John Bulls that were making stakes upon their pretensions. At most the company didn't muster two score-W
--without a pair of patent leather jack-boots among the whole. The scene was in this wise: Along a valley, from which on either hand swept far and fair the velvet downs, walked leisurely a party of beaters. The summit of the ascent on their right was crowned by a considerable wood, while that to the left was without any kind of cover. Consequently, every hare put up made for the hill on the right hand. A little in advance of the beaters, and hidden from them by a strong thick hedge, which ran parallel with their line, the slipper moved with the greyhounds, matched for the course. rangement was worthy the occasion, and the result was some of the most brilliant runs I ever witnessed. The hares on these hills, having to go a considerable distance to feed, are not only kept in working condition, but acquire a hardihood unknown to those which frequent preserves and districts under high cultivation. Some of them would have been voted undeniable “witches” any where north of Tweed : in many instances they beat their pursuers, at the end of three or four miles ; and not only beat them, but put them hors de combat, for both greyhounds laid down more than once, with their game in view. Moreover, all was bonhommie and cordial good humour. If a fellow had gone to the scratch as full of bile as a marrow-bone, he must have retired from it the beau ideal of a philanthropist--a coursing Man of Ross.
A few days after this passage of the leash, there was a more sounding affair to call the energetic in woodcraft to Leatherhead Downs : perhaps a more literal Cockney contrivance, the ill-natured would render it. This was a meet of stag-hounds—of those especial to the countyhight The Surrey, consequently. My affair, however, is not in the present case with men, but manners. We are here to canvass the things done and the place of their achievements, not those by whom they are perpetrated ; therefore, peradventure, our strain is so eulogistic. It treats of a place so picturesque as pen or pencil might tell—of a spot wherein Hygean might find a temple, and Diana an altar-of a region as sylvan as this island can help you to, and as enjoyable as the heart of moderate hope might desire. Now, it is not Melton--nor Marlborough -nor Salisbury Plain— but a section of suburban Surrey—the other side-so to speak of Hungerford-bridge. But the first fair spring day that you can spare, and you can learn there is anything in the sporting very stirring on Leatherhead Downs-be advised take the hint--there are more bungling things in woodcraft than COOKNEY CONTRIVANCES !