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The only account of Wensleydale, within the reach of the middle and lower classes, is contained in the notes to “Wensleydale; or, Rural Contemplations: a Poem: by T. Maude, Esq.;" the fourth and last edition of which was published in 1816; thirty-six years ago. These notes, comprising a good deal of extraneous matter, fill sixty pages; but omit a variety of highly important subjects: the volume, besides, is nearly out of print. Clarkson's “History of Richmond” is a valuable and carefully written work; by far the most accurate that has yet appeared; but this is comparatively difficult of access, and, however serviceable to enquiring students, a quarto has rather a formidable appearance to the general reader.
Pre-eminent, in size and pretensions, is “ Whitaker's Richmondshire,” published in folio, at £24. (1819–22); hence, quite beyond the general means. This book, though beautifully got up and embellished, is very faulty; the author, unhappily, not living to complete and revise it. It may be compared to a vast quarry of fine marble, partly worked; the blocks in which require to be hewn, and polished, and arranged. Dr. Whitaker was a learned and laborious writer, but, unfortunately, only once paid this district a visit and that a hasty one. Where his conjectures appear
accurate I have followed him. The account of Wensleydale in Allen's “History of the County of York”is accurate, but of necessity, meagre. Good notices of different places may be found scattered over various publications; such as “The Gentleman's Magazine,” Burke's “Historic Scenes,” Athill's “Middleham," and others; but ‘ the reader must at once see that all these are of small value to the bulk of the inhabitants; not one containing a compressed and universally accessible account.
Wensleydale however does not deserve the neglect she has experienced. Hand-books, of all kinds, have been published respecting localities much less interesting, whether we regard her natural beauties-her historical associations-or the distinguished characters to whom she has given birth, or who have fixed their abode in her shades. Rich in variegated mountain scenery, we may descend from the bleak hill's crest, where, amongst the heather, only the grouse and the curlew dwell; to old woods, where the linnet and the cushat breed; and fair meadows where the butterfly sleeps upon the flower. Rich also in game and in cattle, she is still wealthier in such treasures as miners dig from swart subterranean abodes. “She has Halls, and she has Castles,” inseparably united with English story,—Abbeys too, whose names, whilst our national records shall be written must for ever remain
the scroll. Her fortresses have been the palaces and prisons of Kings; her soil has been watered with the blood of the Saints. From the hour when the Roman eagles first flew over the Isis,(1) down to the present century, her vicissitudes have been innumerable.
It is no mean boast for so secluded a valley to have produced a Queen of England, a Prince of Wales, a Cardinal Archbishop, three other Archbishops, five Bishops, three Chancellors, and two Chief Justices of England; not to mention the distinguished Abbots, Earls, Barons, and Knights, who were also natives; one of whom, John Nevile, Duke of Bedford, presents the only instance of an English nobleman being deprived of his rank by Act of Parliament, on account of his poverty. The list of former residents is further swelled by the reigning Earls of
(1) The Yore.
Brittany and Richmond; the Kings Edward IV., and Richard III. ; Mary, Queen of Scots; Harcla, Earl of Carlisle; Richard Nevile, Earl of Salisbury, and his sons the potent“King-maker” the Earl of Warwick,(1) and the Marquis of Montague, all men world-renowned in their day besides others of less note and too tedious to name. Such a district should have been worthily celebrated by minstrels, and described by topographers; nevertheless, few but native poets-humble, unnoticed writers—have given it their lays; and with the exception of the works previously named, and some valuable MSS. in ,
. public and private libraries, no history exists.
The task of the local chronicler, like that of the general one, is by no means easy: the attempt to please all would satisfy none. It
may be that some who peruse this little volume will find occasion for offence; perhaps charge me with giving utterance to prejudiced feelings—with prefering the Past to the Present. But the plain duty of every man who undertakes to give an account of the Past, is to exhibit those who lived then in the colours given them by contemporaries, rather than from the suppositions and theories of modern authors. Perhaps I have not done this so effectually as might be; however, I have sought to state facts without unnecessary comments.
The same observation holds good with regard to public institutions and buildings. Those who are led to believe that Abbeys were the abodes of gluttony and licentiousness,
(1) “ York : Call hither to the stake my two brave bears
That, with the very shaking of their chains
Henry VI.: Pt. II, Sc. 1. The chained bear and rugged staff was the most popular cognizance of the Neviles, lords of Middleham.
and Castles, strongholds of tyrants and thieves, will start, to find them represented otherwise. Well indeed may they, for it has long been customary to draw such false pictures, and fill up the outline with the most frightful colours. Even poets have lent their powers, and men of highest genius their eloquence and pens, to blacken past times, and decry the Ages of Faith. Glorious exceptions certainly intervene; but alas ! of each and of all of these we may say,
“ He came—and baring his heav'n-bright thought
He earned the base world's ban,
Gave place to a meaner man.” Only a little while ago, and no audience could be found for such: even at present it is limited.
Men may be met, affecting to advocate for their poor brothers and sisters, coarse bread and water-porridge in a Union House, as being preferable to good meat and ale at a Convent; forgetting, apparently, that while the maintenance of the Union, with its officials and starvation, costs themselves annually large sums, the Convent, with its monks and its charities, never extracted one penny from the pockets of their ancestors. They complain, justly enough, of oppressive rates, and cruel laws; all the while oblivious, if not totally ignorant of the frightful injustice which first caused a necessity for those rates and laws, with all the innumerable concomitant miseries hence entailed on us and our successors. They bemoan sincerely the scenes of suffering that frequently occur, never thinking that in the old day and under its rule, no gifted author could have written
“ Back! wretched suppliant! back
To thy cheerless, homeless dwelling !
Hence to thy haunt of famine, grief, and gloom-
G. LINNÆUS Banks. ---because, in the precincts of the Convent there was ever “ room," and food, and shelter, for the poor and needy. Because our Catholic forefathers knew not how to look with cold hearts and closed hands on the objects of Christian charity.
How beautiful they stand,
By little brooks, that with a lisping sound,
Each in its little plot of holy ground.
How beautiful they stand,
Those old grey churches of our native land !" The Wensleydale churches frequently elicit the tourist's admiration. He, however, sees them greatly to disadvantage; these fine Catholic buildings having undergone numberless alterations, none of an improving character, and many of the very worst description which even a country churchwarden's proverbial ignorance could effect. This is a subject painful to dwell upon. The frightful whitewash, which has obliterated family memorials, and defaced fresco paintings and armorial shields, under the pretext of cleanliness or comeliness—the splendid oak stalls cut up, to make way for wooden boxes called pews—the utter disregard of architectural rules displayed both externally