This month, the h2g2 Post Editor fulfills a personal promise [threat] to Guide Editor Bluebottle. Namely, to devote the month of February to a Literary Corner tribute to the literature connected to the Isle of Wight.
The Isle of Wight's literary connections are a fruitful source of inquiry, and we are grateful to Bluebottle for his Guide Entry and inspiration here.
We feel that no discussion of the Isle of Wight and literature would be complete without this description of its tourist qualities, as penned by no less an expert than Henry Fielding. You can read more about Fielding and this interesting landlady in Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon.We suspect Mrs Francis' great-great-great-whatever-granddaughter is probably running a B&B in Ryde today. We wonder how she cooks her beans.
This has been a fun month, and we hope to do it again sometime. The Isle of Wight is almost as exciting as Bruges.
Henry Fielding on the Isle of Wight
In fact, between the sea and the shore there was, at low water, an impassable gulf, if I may so call it, of deep mud, which could neither be traversed by walking nor swimming; so that for near one half of the twenty-four hours Ryde was inaccessible by friend or foe. But as the magistrates of this place seemed more to desire the company of the former than to fear that of the latter, they had begun to make a small causeway to the low-water mark, so that foot passengers might land whenever they pleased; but as this work was of a public kind, and would have cost a large sum of money, at least ten pounds, and the magistrates, that is to say, the churchwardens, the overseers, constable, and tithingman, and the principal inhabitants, had every one of them some separate scheme of private interest to advance at the expense of the public, they fell out among themselves; and, after having thrown away one half of the requisite sum, resolved at least to save the other half, and rather be contented to sit down losers themselves than to enjoy any benefit which might bring in a greater profit to another. Thus that unanimity which is so necessary in all public affairs became wanting, and every man, from the fear of being a bubble to another, was, in reality, a bubble to himself.1
However, as there is scarce any difficulty to which the strength of men, assisted with the cunning of art, is not equal, I was at last hoisted into a small boat, and being rowed pretty near the shore, was taken up by two sailors, who waded with me through the mud, and placed me in a chair on the land, whence they afterwards conveyed me a quarter of a mile farther, and brought me to a house which seemed to bid the fairest for hospitality of any in Ryde.
We brought with us our provisions from the ship, so that we wanted nothing but a fire to dress our dinner, and a room in which we might eat it. In neither of these had we any reason to apprehend a disappointment, our dinner consisting only of beans and bacon2; and the worst apartment in his majesty's dominions, either at home or abroad, being fully sufficient to answer our present ideas of delicacy.
Unluckily, however, we were disappointed in both; for when we arrived about four at our inn, exulting in the hopes of immediately seeing our beans smoking on the table, we had the mortification of seeing them on the table indeed, but without that circumstance which would have made the sight agreeable, being in the same state in which we had dispatched them from our ship. In excuse for this delay, though we had exceeded, almost purposely, the time appointed, and our provision had arrived three hours before, the mistress of the house acquainted us that it was not for want of time to dress them that they were not ready, but for fear of their being cold or over-done before we should come; which she assured us was much worse than waiting a few minutes for our dinner; an observation so very just, that it is impossible to find any objection in it; but, indeed, it was not altogether so proper at this time, for we had given the most absolute orders to have them ready at four, and had been ourselves, not without much care and difficulty, most exactly punctual in keeping to the very minute of our appointment. But tradesmen, inn-keepers, and servants, never care to indulge us in matters contrary to our true interest, which they always know better than ourselves; nor can any bribes corrupt them to go out of their way while they are consulting our good in our own despite3.
Our disappointment in the other particular, in defiance of our humility, as it was more extraordinary, was more provoking. In short, Mrs. Francis (for that was the name of the good woman of the house) no sooner received the news of our intended arrival than she considered more the gentility than the humanity of her guests, and applied herself not to that which kindles but to that which extinguishes fire, and, forgetting to put on her pot, fell to washing her house.
As the messenger who had brought my venison was impatient to be dispatched, I ordered it to be brought and laid on the table in the room where I was seated; and the table not being large enough, one side, and that a very bloody one, was laid on the brick floor. I then ordered Mrs. Francis to be called in, in order to give her instructions concerning it; in particular, what I would have roasted and what baked; concluding that she would be highly pleased with the prospect of so much money being spent in her house as she might have now reason to expect, if the wind continued only a few days longer to blow from the same points whence it had blown for several weeks past.
I soon saw good cause, I must confess, to despise my own sagacity. Mrs. Francis, having received her orders, without making any answer, snatched the side from the floor, which remained stained with blood, and, bidding a servant to take up that on the table, left the room with no pleasant countenance, muttering to herself that, "had she known the litter which was to have been made, she would not have taken such pains to wash her house that morning. If this was gentility, much good may it do such gentlefolks; for her part she had no notion of it." From these murmurs I received two hints. The one, that it was not from a mistake of our inclination that the good woman had starved us, but from wisely consulting her own dignity, or rather perhaps her vanity, to which our hunger was offered up as a sacrifice. The other, that I was now sitting in a damp room, a circumstance, though it had hitherto escaped my notice from the color of the bricks, which was by no means to be neglected in a valetudinary state4.
My wife, who, besides discharging excellently well her own and all the tender offices becoming the female character; who, besides being a faithful friend, an amiable companion, and a tender nurse, could likewise supply the wants of a decrepit husband, and occasionally perform his part, had, before this, discovered the immoderate attention to neatness in Mrs. Francis, and provided against its ill consequences. She had found, though not under the same roof, a very snug apartment belonging to Mr. Francis, and which had escaped the mop by his wife's being satisfied it could not possibly be visited by gentle-folks. This was a dry, warm, oaken-floored barn, lined on both sides with wheaten straw, and opening at one end into a green field and a beautiful prospect. Here, without hesitation, she ordered the cloth to be laid, and came hastily to snatch me from worse perils by water than the common dangers of the sea5.
Mrs. Francis, who could not trust her own ears, or could not believe a footman in so extraordinary a phenomenon, followed my wife, and asked her if she had indeed ordered the cloth to be laid in the barn? She answered in the affirmative; upon which Mrs. Francis declared she would not dispute her pleasure, but it was the first time she believed that quality had ever preferred a barn to a house. She showed at the same time the most pregnant marks of contempt, and again lamented the labor she had undergone, through her ignorance of the absurd taste of her guests.
At length we were seated in one of the most pleasant spots I believe in the kingdom, and were regaled with our beans and bacon, in which there was nothing deficient but the quantity. This defect was however so deplorable that we had consumed our whole dish before we had visibly lessened our hunger. We now waited with impatience the arrival of our second course, which necessity, and not luxury, had dictated. This was a joint of mutton which Mrs. Francis had been ordered to provide; but when, being tired with expectation, we ordered our servants TO SEE FOR SOMETHING ELSE, we were informed that there was nothing else; on which Mrs. Francis, being summoned, declared there was no such thing as mutton to be had at Ryde. When I expressed some astonishment at their having no butcher in a village so situated, she answered they had a very good one, and one that killed all sorts of meat in season, beef two or three times a year, and mutton the whole year round; but that, it being then beans and peas time, he killed no meat, by reason he was not sure of selling it. This she had not thought worthy of communication, any more than that there lived a fisherman at next door, who was then provided with plenty of soles, and whitings, and lobsters, far superior to those which adorn a city feast. This discovery being made by accident, we completed the best, the pleasantest, and the merriest meal, with more appetite, more real solid luxury, and more festivity, than was ever seen in an entertainment at White's.
It may be wondered at, perhaps, that Mrs. Francis should be so negligent of providing for her guests, as she may seem to be thus inattentive to her own interest; but this was not the case; for, having clapped a poll-tax on our heads at our arrival, and determined at what price to discharge our bodies from her house, the less she suffered any other to share in the levy the clearer it came into her own pocket; and that it was better to get twelve pence in a shilling than ten pence, which latter would be the case if she afforded us fish at any rate6.
Thus we passed a most agreeable day owing to good appetites and good humor; two hearty feeders which will devour with satisfaction whatever food you place before them; whereas, without these, the elegance of St. James's, the charde, the perigord-pie, or the ortolan, the venison, the turtle, or the custard, may titillate the throat, but will never convey happiness to the heart or cheerfulness to the countenance7.
As the wind appeared still immovable, my wife proposed my lying on shore. I presently agreed, though in defiance of an act of parliament, by which persons wandering abroad and lodging in ale-houses are decreed to be rogues and vagabonds8; and this too after having been very singularly officious in putting that law in execution. My wife, having reconnoitered the house, reported that there was one room in which were two beds. It was concluded, therefore, that she and Harriot should occupy one and myself take possession of the other. She added likewise an ingenious recommendation of this room to one who had so long been in a cabin, which it exactly resembled, as it was sunk down with age on one side, and was in the form of a ship with gunwales too.
For my own part, I make little doubt but this apartment was an ancient temple, built with the materials of a wreck, and probably dedicated to Neptune in honor of THE BLESSING sent by him to the inhabitants; such blessings having in all ages been very common to them. The timber employed in it confirms this opinion, being such as is seldom used by ally but ship-builders. I do not find indeed any mention of this matter in Hearn; but perhaps its antiquity was too modern to deserve his notice. Certain it is that this island of Wight was not an early convert to Christianity; nay, there is some reason to doubt whether it was ever entirely converted9. But I have only time to touch slightly on things of this kind, which, luckily for us, we have a society whose peculiar profession it is to discuss and develop10 .