Quotes Corner

This is a new feature, where I shall post snippets from some of those authors who have influenced me and my writing.

Jane Austen

It was after Christmas – 29th December to be precise – in the year 1815, that John Murray, publisher of London Town, released, without fuss or botheration, the first editions of a new novel. Ascribed simply to 'the author of Pride and Prejudice', it was dedicated to His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent 'by His Royal Highness' permission'. Three months later, the book was critically acclaimed by by someone just as anonymous, who wrote that the author was a pioneer, 'presenting to the reader, instead of the splendid scenes of an imaginary world, a correct and striking representation of that which is daily taking place around him.'

The reviewer was no lesser personage than Sir Walter Scott, the writer was Jane Austen and the novel was, of course, Emma. Originally published in three volumes, this new style of 'modern' novel has delighted readers for generations. The longest of her works, it follows the development of misguided, immature Emma from adolescence into adulthood and its ensuing enlightenment.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence, and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

The opening paragraph thus grabs the reader's attention. This young lady is privileged – and probably somewhat self-satisfied. Three paragraphs later, Jane Austen highlights her heroine's faults:

The real evils indeed of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much of her own way, and a disposition to think a little too much of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments.

As those who are familiar with the novel or the filmed versions will know, Emma is in fact a meddler – in the nicest possible way, a busybody – and guilty of the further sins of snobbery and vanity. Yet while the basic premise is simple, Jane Austen so cleverly added a wide range of both nuances and subtle resonances to enrich her tale. She herself observed that:

I do not write for such dull elves
As have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.

Among these subtleties are Emma's many virtues, for otherwise she would be a most unlikeable heroine. Emma has a great capacity to admit her mistakes; is resilient, caring and willing to learn. Nevertheless, for all her wit, she almost misses her own happy ending.

Emma and Mr. Knightley, 1898 Edition
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps, too, in this age of sensationalism and lack of mystery, if the reader is not diligent or imaginative, they might miss the true beauty of the novel's main conclusion. Eschewing a detailed relating of the 'one half hour' between Emma and Mr. Knightley, this is the sum total of that scene:

He had found her agitated and low. Frank Churchill was a villain. He heard her declare that she had never loved him. Frank Churchill's character was not desperate. She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house; and if he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.

For those of us who like to flesh out a whole scene, much can be learned by this. Less is more? Jane Austen undoubtedly thought so.

Thomas Love Peacock

“Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen;

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of men.

Feared by the bad, loved by the good;

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood…” 

A ditty from the television series of yesteryear, which lives on in the memory as do certain advertisement jingles. Perhaps it was the programme, perhaps it was the theme tune, but the Legend of Robin Hood captured my imagination and has remained a fascination ever since. From Richard Greene to Kevin Costner, various actors have taken that lead role, but none has yet equalled (apart from Michael Praed, maybe) the Robin of my imagination.

In 1818, Thomas Love Peacock wrote a novella, complaining to his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley that ‘this brilliant summer’ was not conducive ‘to intellectual endeavour’, but that before its conclusion, ‘rivers, castles, forests, abbeys, monks, maids, kings and banditti were all dancing before me like a masked ball’. [Dictionary of National Biography.] However, he was still three chapters short when he joined the East India Company in 1819 and his duties thus delayed the publication of Maid Marian until 1822. Due to this circumstance, it was thought to be jumping on the bandwagon of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, although it actually predated that famous novel. 

Now come ye for peace here, or come ye for war?


“The abbot, in his alb arrayed,” stood at the altar in the abbey-chapel of Rubygill, with all his plump, sleek, rosy friars, in goodly lines disposed, to solemnise the nuptials of the beautiful Matilda Fitzwater, daughter of the Baron of Arlingford, with the noble Robert Fitz-Ooth, Earl of Locksley and Huntingdon. The abbey of Rubygill stood in a picturesque valley, at a little distance from the western boundary of Sherwood Forest, in a spot which seemed adapted by nature to be the retreat of monastic mortification, being on the banks of a fine trout-stream, and in the midst of woodland coverts, abounding with excellent game. The bride, with her father and attendant maidens, entered the chapel; but the earl had not arrived. The baron was amazed, and the bridemaidens were disconcerted. Matilda feared that some evil had befallen her lover, but felt no diminution of her confidence in his honour and love. Through the open gates of the chapel she looked down the narrow road that wound along the side of the hill; and her ear was the first that heard the distant trampling of horses, and her eye was the first that caught the glitter of snowy plumes, and the light of polished spears. "It is strange," thought the baron, "that the earl should come in this martial array to his wedding;" but he had not long to meditate on the phenomenon, for the foaming steeds swept up to the gate like a whirlwind, and the earl, breathless with speed, and followed by a few of his yeomen, advanced to his smiling bride. It was then no time to ask questions, for the organ was in full peal, and the choristers were in full voice. 

So begins Maid Marian, and at once I want to know why Robert is dressed ‘to kill’ for the wrong reasons. I love the descriptive prose; I can see the setting perfectly and feel the anxiety in the bridal party. I want to read on! Such is the desire of all writers… to keep the reader wanting to turn the page, to start the next chapter… not to want to turn off the light!

As one might expect, the wedding ceremony is interrupted and the Earl of Huntingdon makes haste to depart. He is guided on his way by a brother and a friar from the abbey. I love this description of the friar:

The knight was mounted on a spirited charger; brother Michael on a large heavy-trotting horse; and the little fat friar on a plump soft-paced galloway, so correspondent with himself in size, rotundity, and sleekness, that if they had been amalgamated into a centaur, there would have been nothing to alter in their proportions.

Maid Marian, First Edition
Thomas Love Peacock
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

And so, in due course, Matilda, her father (‘the baron’), the Earl of Huntingdon and the two clerics, along with a collection of foresters, find themselves in the forest.

“In the very best of company,” said the friar, “in the high court of Nature, and in the midst of her own nobility. Is it not so? This goodly grove is our palace: the oak and the beech are its colonnade and its canopy: the sun and the moon and the stars are its everlasting lamps: the grass, and the daisy, and the primrose, and the violet, are its many-coloured floor of green, white, yellow, and blue; the may-flower, and the woodbine, and the eglantine, and the ivy, are its decorations, its curtains, and its tapestry: the lark, and the thrush, and the linnet, and the nightingale, are its unhired minstrels and musicians. Robin Hood is king of the forest both by dignity of birth and by virtue of his standing army: to say nothing of the free choice of his people, which he has indeed... 

...The state levies tax, and the church levies tithe. Even so do we. Mass, we take all at once. What then? It is tax by redemption and tithe by commutation. Your William and Richard can cut and come again, but our Robin deals with slippery subjects that come not twice to his exchequer. What need we then to constitute a court, except a fool and a laureate? For the fool, his only use is to make false knaves merry by art, and we are true men and are merry by nature. For the laureate, his only office is to find virtues in those who have none, and to drink sack for his pains. We have quite virtue enough to need him not, and can drink our sack for ourselves.”

“Well preached, friar,” said Robin Hood: “yet there is one thing wanting to constitute a court, and that is a queen. And now, lovely Matilda, look round upon these sylvan shades where we have so often roused the stag from his ferny covert. The rising sun smiles upon us through the stems of that beechen knoll. Shall I take your hand, Matilda, in the presence of this my court? Shall I crown you with our wild-wood coronal, and hail you queen of the forest? Will you be the queen Matilda of your own true king Robin?”

Matilda smiled assent.

“Not Matilda,” said the friar: “the rules of our holy alliance require new birth. We have excepted in favour of Little John, because he is great John, and his name is a misnomer. I sprinkle, not thy forehead with water, but thy lips with wine, and baptize thee MARIAN.”

“Here is a pretty conspiracy,” exclaimed the baron. “Why, you villainous friar, think you to nickname and marry my daughter before my face with impunity?”

“Even so, bold baron,” said the friar; “we are strongest here. Say you, might overcomes right? I say no. There is no right but might: and to say that might overcomes right is to say that right overcomes itself: an absurdity most palpable. Your right was the stronger in Arlingford, and ours is the stronger in Sherwood. Your right was right as long as you could maintain it; so is ours. So is King Richard’s, with all deference be it spoken; and so is King Saladin’s; and their two mights are now committed in bloody fray, and that which overcomes will be right, just as long as it lasts, and as far as it reaches. And now if any of you know any just impediment——”

“Fire and fury,” said the baron.

“Fire and fury,” said the friar, “are modes of that might which constitutes right, and are just impediments to any thing against which they can be brought to bear. They are our good allies upon occasion, and would declare for us now if you should put them to the test.”

“Father,” said Matilda, “you know the terms of our compact: from the moment you restrained my liberty, you renounced your claim to all but compulsory obedience. The friar argues well. Right ends with might. Thick walls, dreary galleries, and tapestried chambers, were indifferent to me while I could leave them at pleasure, but have ever been hateful to me since they held me by force. May I never again have roof but the blue sky, nor canopy but the green leaves, nor barrier but the forest-bounds; with the foresters to my train, Little John to my page, Friar Tuck to my ghostly adviser, and Robin Hood to my liege lord. I am no longer lady Matilda Fitzwater, of Arlingford Castle, but plain Maid Marian, of Sherwood Forest.”

“Long live Maid Marian!” re-echoed the foresters.

Oh! bold Robin Hood is a forester good,
 As ever drew bow in the merry greenwood:
 At his bugle's shrill singing the echoes are ringing,
 The wild deer are springing for many a rood:
 Its summons we follow, through brake, over hollow,
 The thrice-blown shrill summons of bold Robin Hood.

 And what eye hath e'er seen such a sweet Maiden Queen,
 As Marian, the pride of the forester's green?
 A sweet garden-flower, she blooms in the bower,
 Where alone to this hour the wild rose has been:
 We hail her in duty the queen of all beauty:
 We will live, we will die, by our sweet Maiden queen.

I find it interesting to note that the film, ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ follows the plot of this novella to a certain degree, but you will have to read the book for yourselves to find out how it ends! There is much to amuse in the novella too. Enjoy!

Daniel Defoe

No list of eighteenth and nineteenth century writers would be complete without the author of one of the ‘best novels written in English’. I daresay that persons of a certain age may well be familiar with a French-produced television series which dramatized what has also been described as ‘the first novel in English’. It was, for many, their primary encounter with the well-known tale of the adventurer and mariner who becomes shipwrecked on a tropical island near the mouth of the Orinoco River. He survives for thirty years, battling loneliness, hunger, thirst, the elements, cannibals and mutineers before eventually being rescued. In company with two ship’s cats and the Captain’s dog, the only other survivors, he salvages as much as he can from the wreck, including tools, munitions and supplies. He builds a fenced enclosure around a cave, hunts for food, raises goats, grows rice and barley, makes clay pots and, through scratching lines on a wooden cross, a rough calendar. 

The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was originally published in April 1719 by the Minerva Press, for Lane and Newman. The story is told as an epistolary autobiographical account of the main character’s travails. It even reads in the manner of confession at times. 

I WAS born in the year 1633, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who fettled first at Hull.—He got a good estate, by merchandise; and, leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that county, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer ; but, by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called, nay, we call ourselves, and write our name, Crusoe; and so my companions always called me. 

I had two elder brothers, one of whom was a lieutenant-colonel in an English regiment of foot in Flanders, formerly commanded by the famous Colonel Lockhart, and was killed at a battle near Dunkirk, against the Spaniards. What became of my second brother I never knew, any more than my father or mother did know what was become of me. Being the third son of the family, and not bred to any trade, my head began to be filled very early with rambling thoughts. My father, who was very ancient, had given me a competent share of learning, as far as house education, and a country free-school generally goes, and designed me for the law; but I would be satisfied with nothing but going to sea; and my inclination to this led me so strongly against the will, nay, the commands of my father, and against all the entreaties and persuasions of my mother and other friends, that there seemed to be something fatal in that propention of nature, tending directly to the life of misery which was to befal me. 

Thus begins the tale, which was issued in two volumes and with the full and inordinately long title shown on this title page.

Title Page First Edition, 1719
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In the way of many classics, Robinson Crusoe is a rambling discourse the like of which modern editors deplore. Whether this was a deliberate decision on Defoe’s part to replicate the ‘burbling’ of a man who had spent so many years alone, this author cannot say. There are various abridged versions available should you wish to ‘cut to the chase’. What is irrefutable, however, is that the tale is very much a book of its time, with elements that the modern reader is likely to find distasteful. When Crusoe is shipwrecked, it is during an expedition to bring slaves from Africa. Years before that, having escaped enslavement by pirates, he sold the boy, Xury, with whom he had won free, to the captain of a Portuguese vessel who had delivered them. Nevertheless, while it is prompted by his own desire for a servant and human companionship, he does save one of the most famous characters in the book from cannibals. 

He was a comely, handsome fellow, perfectly well made, with straight long limbs, not too large, tall, and well-shaped, and, as I reckon, about twenty-six years of age. He had a very good countenance, not a fierce and surly aspect, but seemed to have something very manly in his face, and yet he had all the sweetness and softness of a European in his countenance, too, especially when he smiled. His hair was long and black, not curled like wool; his forehead was very high and large, and a great vivacity and sparkling sharpness in his eyes. The colour of his skin was not quite black, but very tawny, and yet not of an ugly, yellow, nauseous tawny, as the Brazilians and Virginians, and other natives of America are, but of a bright kind of a dun olive colour, that had in it something very agreeable, though not very easy to describe.—His face was round and plump, his nose small, not flat like the negroes, a very good mouth, thin lips, and his teeth fine, well-set, and white as ivory.

Robinson Crusoe meets Friday
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
‘My man, Friday’, named for the day Crusoe rescued him, becomes the Englishman’s servant, confidant and friend. He teaches Friday to speak English as well as introducing him to the Christian faith. They manage to leave the island when an English ship, overrun by mutineers, attempts to maroon its captain. With Crusoe’s assistance, the loyal sailors overthrow the mutiny and Robinson returns home to England. This is not the end of his adventures in Vol. I, though. Believing him dead, Crusoe’s father has left him no inheritance, so he returns to Lisbon to seek the profits of his Brazilian estate. Whilst transporting his riches across the Continent to avoid sea travel, he and Friday are attacked by starving wolves.

Daniel Defoe was obviously a devotee of the maxim, ‘Don’t let your characters resolve their issues too easily’!

Ronald Welch

Many long years ago, I borrowed a book from the school library. It has stayed with me through childhood and adulthood, and quite possibly was the beginning of my love affair with historical fiction.

That book was called The Gauntlet, a story of a young boy, Peter, who finds a medieval gauntlet whilst lost in a mist on a Welsh hillside. Of course he has to put his hand inside it… and finds himself in the Welsh Marches of the fourteenth century, the son of Roger de Blois, Norman knight and lord of Carreg Cennen Castle.

Hardly realizing what he was doing, he slipped his right hand inside the heavy gauntlet, and his fingers groped inside the wide spaces, for it was far too large for his small hand.

From behind there came the thud of hooves, a shout, shrill and defiant, the clang of metal on metal, and then a confused roar of sounds, shouts, more hoof-beats, clang after clang, dying away into the distance as suddenly as they had come. The gauntlet slipped from Peter’s hand, and he shook himself as if he had just awakened.

“What was that?” he whispered.

Ronald Welch was really Ronald Oliver Felton TD and he took his pen name from his regiment during his military service in WWII. Born in West Glamorgan in 1909, he wrote a succession of children’s historical stories during his writing career. As he died as recently as 1982, his works are still covered by copyright, although my copy of The Gauntlet permits extracts for review purposes. I will, however, include only one more short snippet.

The gauntlet turns out to belong to Lord Roger de Blois, who, Peter is amazed to discover, is his ‘father’. They return to the castle, now a mighty fortress, not a ruin, and Peter is taken to his room at the top of a steep, spiral staircase he had explored earlier that morning, in the twentieth century! After a bath in a wooden tub, he is assisted into scarlet hose, a gold and silver decorated cote-hardie (a type of tight-fitting coat) and a scarlet liripipe (a medieval hoodie, cape and hood combined, with a long, thin pipe hanging down his back.) He is taken to meet his ‘mother’ and ‘brother’, plus two guests, before it is time for dinner.

Peter turned back and eyed his fish with horror. [There is a silver knife, but no fork, of course. His ‘family’ are cutting the fish and transporting the fish to their mouths ‘in fingerloads’!] But the Lady Marian came to his help, or so she thought. For she proceeded to give him a lesson in medieval table manners.

“Now, remember, my son,” she said. “Do not dip your fish in the salt, and never more than two fingers and a thumb on the fish or meat. And on no account must you wipe your fingers on the table cloth. And mark you the same, Glyndwr.”

Peter finds it a ‘messy business’ and his companions like ‘pigs at a trough’. Then Lord Roger belches and throws his leftovers to the floor behind his chair. Two dogs immediately snap and snarl over the food.

“Now, mark you, Peter,” Lady Marian said, who had watched the incident with approval, “take heed from your father. Never fondle the dogs in the middle of the meal. If you wish to feed them, throw the meat to them.”

I was hooked! The descriptions of clothes, food, castles and equipment, to say nothing of Peter’s lessons in archery, falconry, being a page and jousting, swept me back in time to the romance of another age. I had no option, really, but to become a romantic novelist, did I?! So, thank you, Ronald Welch, Peter and (I suspect) Roger de Blois...

The Gauntlet, First Edition, Oxford University Press

Georgette Heyer

This second short quote from the masterly pen of Georgette Heyer comes from Venetia, which was first published by William Heinemann Ltd. in 1958. I could quite easily fill the whole blog with quotes from this novel alone, which has always been one of my favourites and is, in my humble opinion, one of the Queen of Regency’s finest works, if not the finest.

Indeed, as I was flipping through the pages, I became immersed in her sparkling dialogue and delightful prose and soon had been diverted from my task for over half an hour! No matter: time spent reading a Georgette Heyer novel is never wasted.

Having left her Aunt and Uncle Hendred’s house in London, where she has been staying, under the delusion that Lord Damerel would not marry her because such a marriage would ruin her, Venetia returns home to Yorkshire, determined to make her ‘dear rake’ see the error of his ways. By devious means having contrived to ruin herself – through walking the length of Bond Street with her disreputable stepfather, Sir Lambert Steeple – she discovers Damerel rather ‘well to live’ (the worse for drink). 

“O God! No!”
Undaunted by this unexpected reaction since she has recognized his condition, she exclaims:
“Oh, Damerel, must you be foxed just at this moment? How odious you are, my dear friend!” 

Interrupted by first the butler and then Marston, his lordship’s valet and general factotum, Venetia allows herself to be shown to a bedchamber to repair the ravages of travel. When she returns, Damerel’s appearance has also been rectified and he is now almost sober. 

“What has brought you here, Venetia?”
“The mail-coach – and excessively uncomfortable it was!”
“Don’t quibble, girl!”
She smiled at him, saying softly: “Stoopid!”
She won no answering smile; he was looking pale, and rather grim; and after a tiny pause, he said: “I wish to God you had not come!”
“Oh! That’s – that’s a horrid set-down, particularly when it seemed to me you were glad to see me.”
“I was badly foxed – I’m still a trifle concerned, but no longer out of my senses!”
“Oh, dear, do you mean to kiss me only when you’re foxed?”
“I don’t mean to kiss you at all!” he said harshly.
“Then of course I won’t press you to,” she replied. “Nothing is more detestable than to be pressed to do what one hasn’t the smallest wish to do!...” 

Witty dialogue like this I can only dream of producing!

Anne Brontë

The youngest of the Brontë siblings, poet and novelist Anne died in May 1849 at the tragically young age of twenty-nine. It is believed she contracted a form of tuberculosis. Her debut novel Agnes Grey was written under the masculine pseudonym of Acton Bell, in an effort to avoid such criticism as was often levelled at female writers of that time. The novel was published in 1847, in a three-volume set with her sister, Emily’s, Wuthering Heights, and was influenced heavily by her experiences of being a governess.

My father was a clergyman of the north of England, who was deservedly respected by all who knew him; and, in his younger days, lived pretty comfortably on the joint income of a small incumbency and a snug little property of his own.  My mother, who married him against the wishes of her friends, was a squire’s daughter, and a woman of spirit.  In vain it was represented to her, that if she became the poor parson’s wife, she must relinquish her carriage and her lady’s-maid, and all the luxuries and elegancies of affluence; which to her were little less than the necessaries of life.  A carriage and a lady’s-maid were great conveniences; but, thank heaven, she had feet to carry her, and hands to minister to her own necessities.  An elegant house and spacious grounds were not to be despised; but she would rather live in a cottage with Richard Grey than in a palace with any other man in the world.

Finding arguments of no avail, her father, at length, told the lovers they might marry if they pleased; but, in so doing, his daughter would forfeit every fraction of her fortune.  He expected this would cool the ardour of both; but he was mistaken.  My father knew too well my mother’s superior worth not to be sensible that she was a valuable fortune in herself: and if she would but consent to embellish his humble hearth he should be happy to take her on any terms; while she, on her part, would rather labour with her own hands than be divided from the man she loved, whose happiness it would be her joy to make, and who was already one with her in heart and soul.  So her fortune went to swell the purse of a wiser sister, who had married a rich nabob; and she, to the wonder and compassionate regret of all who knew her, went to bury herself in the homely village parsonage among the hills of ---.  And yet, in spite of all this, and in spite of my mother’s high spirit and my father’s whims, I believe you might search all England through, and fail to find a happier couple.

Beyond a short, explanatory paragraph to ‘distance’ the narrator (Agnes herself) from identification, this is the opening to Agnes Grey. The story follows eighteen-year-old Agnes, whose father has lost his investment in a friend’s sailing ship, as she seeks to earn a living as a governess.

Anne Bronte by Charlotte Bronte, c. 1834
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In her second situation, with the wealthy Murray family, she pays visits to an old lady, Nancy Brown, whose eyesight is failing and requires assistance to read her bible. Here Agnes meets Mr. Edward Weston, the new parson.

But this time I was not long alone.  It struck me, first, as very odd, that just as I was thinking about Mr. Weston he should come up and accost me; but afterwards, on due reflection, I thought there was nothing odd about it, unless it were the fact of his speaking to me; for on such a morning and so near his own abode, it was natural enough that he should be about; and as for my thinking of him, I had been doing that, with little intermission, ever since we set out on our journey; so there was nothing remarkable in that.

‘You are alone again, Miss Grey,’ said he.
‘What kind of people are those ladies—the Misses Green?’
‘I really don’t know.’
‘That’s strange—when you live so near and see them so often!’
‘Well, I suppose they are lively, good-tempered girls; but I imagine you must know them better than I do, yourself, for I never exchanged a word with either of them.’
‘Indeed?  They don’t strike me as being particularly reserved.’
‘Very likely they are not so to people of their own class; but they consider themselves as moving in quite a different sphere from me!’
He made no reply to this: but after a short pause, he said,—‘I suppose it’s these things, Miss Grey, that make you think you could not live without a home?’
‘Not exactly.  The fact is I am too socially disposed to be able to live contentedly without a friend; and as the only friends I have, or am likely to have, are at home, if it—or rather, if they were gone—I will not say I could not live—but I would rather not live in such a desolate world.’
‘But why do you say the only friends you are likely to have?  Are you so unsociable that you cannot make friends?’
‘No, but I never made one yet; and in my present position there is no possibility of doing so, or even of forming a common acquaintance.  The fault may be partly in myself, but I hope not altogether.’
‘The fault is partly in society, and partly, I should think, in your immediate neighbours: and partly, too, in yourself; for many ladies, in your position, would make themselves be noticed and accounted of.  But your pupils should be companions for you in some degree; they cannot be many years younger than yourself.’
‘Oh, yes, they are good company sometimes; but I cannot call them friends, nor would they think of bestowing such a name on me—they have other companions better suited to their tastes.’
‘Perhaps you are too wise for them.  How do you amuse yourself when alone—do you read much?’
‘Reading is my favourite occupation, when I have leisure for it and books to read.’

From speaking of books in general, he passed to different books in particular, and proceeded by rapid transitions from topic to topic, till several matters, both of taste and opinion, had been discussed considerably within the space of half an hour, but without the embellishment of many observations from himself; he being evidently less bent upon communicating his own thoughts and predilections, than on discovering mine.  He had not the tact, or the art, to effect such a purpose by skilfully drawing out my sentiments or ideas through the real or apparent statement of his own, or leading the conversation by imperceptible gradations to such topics as he wished to advert to: but such gentle abruptness, and such single-minded straightforwardness, could not possibly offend me.

‘And why should he interest himself at all in my moral and intellectual capacities: what is it to him what I think or feel?’ I asked myself.  And my heart throbbed in answer to the question. 

Anne’s prose has been likened to Jane Austen. For me, it certainly provides a flavour of the dialogue and structure of that era. It flows beautifully, providing insights into the sad treatment of many women in Agnes’ situation, abuse of animals through the character of Tom Bloomfield, one of Agnes’ obnoxious first charges, and the strength of resolve the latter has to develop in order to succeed. Agnes Grey has been overshadowed by Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and by her sisters’ famous works, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Personally, I think, as a first novel it has a great deal to recommend it even above those two literary giants.

No plot spoilers here. If Agnes has a happy ever after with Edward, you must discover for yourself. Enjoy!

R.D. Blackmore



If anybody cares to read a simple tale told simply, I, John Kidd, of the parish of Oare, in the county of Somerset, yeoman and churchwarden, have seen and had a share in some doings of this neighborhood, which I will try to set down in order, God sparing my life and memory. And they who light upon this book should bear in mind, not only that I write for the clearing of our parish from ill-fame and calumny, but also a thing which will, I trow, appear too often in it, to wit — that 1 am nothing more than a plain unlettered man, not read in foreign languages, as a gentleman might be, nor gifted with long words (even in mine own tongue), save what I may have won from the Bible, or Master William Shakespeare, whom, in the face of common opinion, I do value highly. In short, I am an ignoramus, but pretty well for a yeoman. My father being of good substance, at least as we reckon in Exmoor, and seized in his own right, from many generations, of one, and that the best and largest, of the three farms into which our parish is divided (or rather the cultured part thereof), he, John Ridd, the elder, churchwarden and overseer, being a great admirer of learning, and well able to write his name, sent me his only son to be schooled at Tiverton, in the county of Devon. For the chief boast of that ancient town (next to its woollen-staple) is a worthy grammar-school, the largest in the west of England, founded and handsomely endowed in the year 1604, by Master Peter Blundell, of that same place, clothier.

So begins Lorna Doone, by R. D. Blackmore (1825-1900), published anonymously in three volumes in 1869. It is, in effect, an historical novel, although the author decreed it to be a ‘romance’ as he neither dared nor wished to ‘claim for it the dignity’ of such. It features historical characters and places, including Blundell’s school in Tiverton, which the author himself attended.

Set on Exmoor during the seventeenth century, the novel tells the story of gentleman farmer John (pronounced Jan) Ridd, whose father was murdered by one of the notorious Doone clan, a once noble family turned outlaws. John falls hopelessly in love with a young girl, Lorna, who he meets by chance. However, Lorna is the apparent granddaughter of the lord of the Doones, Sir Ensor, and destined to marry Carver Doone, heir to the Doone Valley, against her will. When Sir Ensor dies, she escapes with John Ridd to his family farm, which is when their troubles really begin.

He, for his part, never asked for any one to come near him, not even a priest, nor a monk or friar; but seemed to be going his own way, peaceful, and well contented. Only the chief of the women said, that from his face she believed and knew, that he liked to have me at one side of his bed, and Lorna upon the other. An hour or two ere the old man died, when only we two were with him, he looked at us both very dimly and softly, as if he wished to do something for us, but had left it now too late. Lorna hoped that he wanted to bless us; but he only frowned at that, and let his hand drop downward, and crooked one knotted finger.

"He wants something out of the bed, dear," Lorna whispered to me; "see what it is, upon your side, there."

I followed the bent of his poor shrunken hand, and sought among the pilings; and there I felt something hard and sharp, and drew it forth and gave it to him. It flashed, like the spray of a fountain upon us, in the dark winter of the room. He could not take it in his hand, but let it hang, as daisies do; only making Lorna see that he meant her to have it.

"Why, it is my glass necklace!" Lorna cried, in great surprise; "my necklace he always promised me; and from which you have got the ring, John, But grandfather kept it, because the children wanted to pull it from my neck. May I have it now, dear grandfather? Not unless you wish, dear."

Darling Lorna wept again, because the old man could not tell her (except by one very feeble nod) that she was doing what he wished. Then she gave to me the trinket, for the sake of safety; and I stowed it in my breast. He seemed to me to follow this, and to be well content with it.

John Ridd learns to fire his father's gun
Wikimedia Commons


Beatrix Potter

To celebrate 150 years since Beatrix Potter’s birth (28.7.1866 – 22.12.1943) this week I am looking at her wonderful children’s books, such as The Tales of Peter Rabbit. Born in Kensington, London, she had a privileged upbringing, being taught by governesses. She and her brother Bertram kept a variety of small animals and sketched them all the time. She illustrated her own books. In 1905, using money left to her by an aunt, as well as royalties from the sale of her books, she bought Hill Top Farm at Near Sawrey in the Lake District. The property now belongs to the National Trust and is kept as it was when she lived there. She was an avid conservationist and bought several farms in the area to preserve the hillside ecology. She threw herself into the country life, including animal husbandry, and became well known for breeding Herdwick sheep. She developed a heart condition and died in 1943 at the age of seventy-seven.

First Edition Cover
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As a child I adored her books and I still think they are charming all these years on. I induced my frail grandfather to read The Tale of Peter Rabbit to me once and when he had finished, promptly sat down a few feet away and read it myself. I was four. So, on Quotes Corner today, I am sharing with you my favourite, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.




ONCE upon a time there
was a little girl called
Lucie, who lived at a farm
called Little-town. She was
a good little girl--only she
was always losing her pocket-

One day little Lucie came
into the farm-yard crying--
oh, she did cry so! "I've lost
my pocket-handkin! Three
handkins and a pinny! Have
YOU seen them, Tabby Kitten?" 

THE Kitten went on washing
her white paws; so
Lucie asked a speckled hen--
"Sally Henny-penny, has
YOU found three pocket-handkins?" 

But the speckled hen ran
into a barn, clucking--
"I go barefoot, barefoot,

AND then Lucie asked Cock
Robin sitting on a twig.
Cock Robin looked sideways
at Lucie with his bright black
eye, and he flew over a stile
and away.

Lucie climbed upon the stile
and looked up at the hill behind
Little-town--a hill that goes
up--up--into the clouds as
though it had no top!

And a great way up the hillside
she thought she saw some
white things spread upon the

LUCIE scrambled up the
hill as fast as her stout
legs would carry her; she ran
along a steep path-way--up
and up--until Little-town was
right away down below--she
could have dropped a pebble
down the chimney!

PRESENTLY she came to
a spring, bubbling out
from the hill-side. 

Some one had stood a tin
can upon a stone to catch the
water--but the water was
already running over, for the
can was no bigger than an
egg-cup! And where the sand
upon the path was wet--there
were foot-marks of a VERY
small person.

Lucie ran on, and on.

THE path ended under a
big rock. The grass was
short and green, and there
were clothes-props cut from
bracken stems, with lines of
plaited rushes, and a heap of
tiny clothes pins--but no

But there was something
else--a door! straight into the
hill; and inside it some one
was singing-- 

     "Lily-white and clean, oh!
     With little frills between, oh!
     Smooth and hot--red rusty spot
     Never here be seen, oh!" 

LUCIE, knocked--once--
twice, and interrupted
the song. A little frightened
voice called out "Who's that?" 

Lucie opened the door: and
what do you think there was
inside the hill?--a nice clean
kitchen with a flagged floor
and wooden beams--just like
any other farm kitchen. Only
the ceiling was so low that
Lucie's head nearly touched it;
and the pots and pans were
small, and so was everything

THERE was a nice hot
singey smell; and at the
table, with an iron in her hand
stood a very stout short person
staring anxiously at Lucie. 

Her print gown was tucked
up, and she was wearing a
large apron over her striped
petticoat. Her little black
nose went sniffle, sniffle, snuffle,
and her eyes went twinkle,
twinkle; and underneath her
cap--where Lucie had yellow
curls--that little person had

"WHO are you?" said
Lucie. "Have you
seen my pocket-handkins?" 

The little person made a
bob-curtsey--"Oh, yes, if you
please'm; my name is Mrs.
Tiggy-winkle; oh, yes if you
please'm, I'm an excellent clear-
starcher!" And she took

something out of a clothes-
basket, and spread it on the

"WHAT'S that thing?"
said Lucie--"that's
not my pocket-handkin?"

"Oh no, if you please'm;
that's a little scarlet waist-coat
belonging to Cock Robin!" 

And she ironed it and folded
it, and put it on one side. 

THEN she took something
else off a clothes-horse--
"That isn't my pinny?" said

"Oh no, if you please'm;
that's a damask table-cloth
belonging to Jenny Wren;
look how it's stained with
currant wine! It's very bad
to wash!" said Mrs. Tiggy-

nose went sniffle, sniffle,
snuffle, and her eyes went
twinkle, twinkle; and she
fetched another hot iron from
the fire. 

"THERE'S one of my
pocket-handkins!" cried
Lucie--"and there's my pinny!" 

Mrs. Tiggy-winkle ironed it,
and goffered it, and shook out
the frills. 

"Oh that IS lovely!" said

"AND what are those long
yellow things with fingers
like gloves?" 

"Oh, that's a pair of stockings
belonging to Sally Henny-
penny--look how she's worn
the heels out with scratching
in the yard! She'll very soon
go barefoot!" said Mrs. Tiggy-

"WHY, there's another
handkersniff--but it
isn't mine; it's red?"

"Oh no, if you please'm;
that one belongs to old Mrs.
Rabbit; and it DID so smell
of onions! I've had to wash
it separately, I can't get out
the smell." 

"There's another one of
mine," said Lucie. 

"WHAT are those funny
little white things?"

"That's a pair of mittens
belonging to Tabby Kitten; I
only have to iron them; she
washes them herself." 

"There's my last pocket-
handkin!" said Lucie. 

"AND what are you dipping
into the basin of starch?" 

"They're little dicky shirt-
fronts belonging to Tom Titmouse
--most terrible particular!"
said Mrs. Tiggy-winkle.
"Now I've finished my ironing;
I'm going to air some clothes." 

"WHAT are these dear soft
fluffy things?" said

"Oh those are woolly coats
belonging to the little lambs
at Skelghyl." 

"Will their jackets take off?"
asked Lucy.

"Oh yes, if you please'm;
look at the sheep-mark on the
shoulder. And here's one
marked for Gatesgarth, and
three that come from Little-town.
They're ALWAYS marked
at washing!" said Mrs. Tiggy-

AND she hung up all sorts
and sizes of clothes--
small brown coats of mice;
and one velvety black mole-
skin waist-coat; and a red tail-
coat with no tail belonging to
Squirrel Nutkin; and a very

much shrunk blue jacket
belonging to Peter Rabbit; and
a petticoat, not marked, that
had gone lost in the washing
--and at last the basket was

THEN Mrs. Tiggy-winkle
made tea--a cup for herself
and a cup for Lucie. They
sat before the fire on a bench
and looked sideways at one
another. Mrs. Tiggy-winkle's
hand, holding the tea-cup, was
very very brown, and very very
wrinkly with the soap-suds;
and all through her gown and
her cap, there were HAIR-PINS
sticking wrong end out; so
that Lucie didn't like to sit
too near her. 

WHEN they had finished
tea, they tied up the
clothes in bundles; and Lucie's
pocket-handkerchiefs were
folded up inside her clean
pinny, and fastened with a
silver safety-pin. 

And then they made up the
fire with turf, and came out
and locked the door, and hid
the key under the door-sill. 

THEN away down the hill
trotted Lucie and Mrs.
Tiggy-winkle with the bundles
of clothes! 

All the way down the path
little animals came out of the
fern to meet them; the very
first that they met were Peter
Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny! 

AND she gave them their
nice clean clothes; and
all the little animals and birds
were so very much obliged to
dear Mrs. Tiggy-winkle. 

SO that at the bottom of the
hill when they came to
the stile, there was nothing
left to carry except Lucie's
one little bundle. 

LUCIE scrambled up the
stile with the bundle in
her hand; and then she turned
to say "Good-night," and to
thank the washer-woman--
But what a VERY odd thing!
Mrs. Tiggy-winkle had not
waited either for thanks or for
the washing bill! 

She was running running
running up the hill--and
where was her white frilled
cap? and her shawl? and her
gown--and her petticoat? 

AND how small she had
grown--and how brown
--and covered with PRICKLES! 

Why! Mrs. Tiggy-winkle
was nothing but a HEDGEHOG. 

     *  *  *  * 

(Now some people say that little
Lucie had been asleep upon the stile--
but then how could she have found
three clean pocket-handkins and a pinny,
pinned with a silver safety-pin? 

And besides--_I_ have seen that door
into the back of the hill called Cat
Bells--and besides _I_ am very well
acquainted with dear Mrs. Tiggy-winkle!)

Completely charming! 

Robert Louis Stevenson

Perhaps the original Boys’ Own Adventure, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island has thrilled children of both sexes since its publication in 1883. It has been captured on film and television in numerous adaptations and both its characters and catchphrases have become part of the fabric of British literary history. It is a classic tale of treasure, piracy and adventure, told by the hero, Jim Hawkins. 

Robert Louis Stevenson, who died in December 1894 at the tragically young age of 44, a sufferer of consumption (tuberculosis), was a prolific writer of novels, poetry, essays and books on travel. Born in Scotland, he loved to travel for its own sake. In the first paragraphs of Treasure Island, in a few, well-chosen words, he brings to life a character tailor-made to capture a child’s interest.

SQUIRE TRELAWNEY, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof.  

I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow—a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:

“Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

 in the high, old tottering voice that seemed to have been tuned and broken at the capstan bars. Then he rapped on the door with a bit of stick like a handspike that he carried, and when my father appeared, called roughly for a glass of rum. This, when it was brought to him, he drank slowly, like a connoisseur, lingering on the taste and still looking about him at the cliffs and up at our signboard.  

“This is a handy cove," says he at length; "and a pleasant sittyated grog-shop. Much company, mate?” 

My father told him no, very little company, the more was the pity. 

“Well, then,” said he, “this is the berth for me. Here you, matey,” he cried to the man who trundled the barrow; “bring up alongside and help up my chest. I’ll stay here a bit,” he continued. “I'm a plain man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for to watch ships off. What you mought call me? You mought call me captain. Oh, I see what you're at—there”; and he threw down three or four gold pieces on the threshold. “You can tell me when I've worked through that,” says he, looking as fierce as a commander. 

And indeed bad as his clothes were and coarsely as he spoke, he had none of the appearance of a man who sailed before the mast, but seemed like a mate or skipper accustomed to be obeyed or to strike. The man who came with the barrow told us the mail had set him down the morning before at the Royal George, that he had inquired what inns there were along the coast, and hearing ours well spoken of, I suppose, and described as lonely, had chosen it from the others for his place of residence. And that was all we could learn of our guest. 

Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The seaman, ‘Billy’ Bones, has a chest, in which Jim and his mother discover a map of an island, money and a diary following the former’s death. Dr. Livesey opines that it is a map to buried treasure and Squire Trelawney suggests the purchase of a ship to find the gold. Thus, the adventures ensue, with Jim as cabin boy.

One of the most memorable lines and characters for me, which has stayed with me long after childhood has sailed out of harbour, is as familiar to those of a more mature disposition as is the monkey in The Pirates of the Caribbean films to the child of the millennium.

Jim Hawkins is sneaking back into the block-house in an abandoned stockade, now occupied by his comrades:

By this time I had got to the door and stood up. All was dark within, so that I could distinguish nothing by the eye. As for sounds, there was the steady drone of the snorers and a small occasional noise, a flickering or pecking that I could in no way account for. 

With my arms before me I walked steadily in. I should lie down in my own place (I thought with a silent chuckle) and enjoy their faces when they found me in the morning. 

My foot struck something yielding—it was a sleeper’s leg; and he turned and groaned, but without awaking. 

And then, all of a sudden, a shrill voice broke forth out of the darkness: 

“Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!” and so forth, without pause or change, like the clacking of a tiny mill. 

Silver’s green parrot, Captain Flint! It was she whom I had heard pecking at a piece of bark; it was she, keeping better watch than any human being, who thus announced my arrival with her wearisome refrain. 

I had no time left me to recover. At the sharp, clipping tone of the parrot, the sleepers awoke and sprang up; and with a mighty oath, the voice of Silver cried, “Who goes?”

I turned to run, struck violently against one person, recoiled, and ran full into the arms of a second, who for his part closed upon and held me tight. 

“Bring a torch, Dick,” said Silver when my capture was thus assured. 

And one of the men left the log-house and presently returned with a lighted brand. 

THE red glare of the torch, lighting up the interior of the block house, showed me the worst of my apprehensions realized. The pirates were in possession of the house and stores: there was the cask of cognac, there were the pork and bread, as before, and what tenfold increased my horror, not a sign of any prisoner. I could only judge that all had perished, and my heart smote me sorely that I had not been there to perish with them. 

There were six of the buccaneers, all told; not another man was left alive. Five of them were on their feet, flushed and swollen, suddenly called out of the first sleep of drunkenness. The sixth had only risen upon his elbow; he was deadly pale, and the blood-stained bandage round his head told that he had recently been wounded, and still more recently dressed. I remembered the man who had been shot and had run back among the woods in the great attack, and doubted not that this was he. 

The parrot sat, preening her plumage, on Long John’s shoulder. He himself, I thought, looked somewhat paler and more stern than I was used to. He still wore the fine broadcloth suit in which he had fulfilled his mission, but it was bitterly the worse for wear, daubed with clay and torn with the sharp briers of the wood. 

“So,” said he, “here's Jim Hawkins, shiver my timbers! Dropped in, like, eh? Well, come, I take that friendly.”

And thereupon he sat down across the brandy cask and began to fill a pipe.

“Give me a loan of the link, Dick,” said he; and then, when he had a good light, “That’ll do, lad,” he added; “stick the glim in the wood heap; and you, gentlemen, bring yourselves to! You needn’t stand up for Mr. Hawkins; he’ll excuse you, you may lay to that. And so, Jim”—stopping the tobacco—“here you were, and quite a pleasant surprise for poor old John. I see you were smart when first I set my eyes on you, but this here gets away from me clean, it do.”

To all this, as may be well supposed, I made no answer. They had set me with my back against the wall, and I stood there, looking Silver in the face, pluckily enough, I hope, to all outward appearance, but with black despair in my heart.

Silver took a whiff or two of his pipe with great composure and then ran on again.

“Now, you see, Jim, so be as you are here,” says he, “'ll give you a piece of my mind. I’ve always liked you, I have, for a lad of spirit, and the picter of my own self when I was young and handsome. I always wanted you to jine and take your share, and die a gentleman, and now, my cock, you’ve got to. Cap’n Smollett’s a fine seaman, as I’ll own up to any day, but stiff on discipline. ‘Dooty is dooty,’ says he, and right he is. Just you keep clear of the cap’n. The doctor himself is gone dead again you—‘ungrateful scamp’ was what he said; and the short and the long of the whole story is about here: you can’t go back to your own lot, for they won’t have you; and without you start a third ship’s company all by yourself, which might be lonely, you’ll have to jine with Cap’n Silver.” 

Found by a half-mad Englishman, Ben Gunn, Jim describes the treasure towards the end of the tale: 

It was a strange collection, like Billy Bones’ hoard for the diversity of coinage, but so much larger and so much more varied that I think I never had more pleasure than in sorting them. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Georges, and Louises, doubloons and double guineas and moidores and sequins, the pictures of all the kings of Europe for the last hundred years, strange Oriental pieces stamped with what looked like wisps of string or bits of spider’s web, round pieces and square pieces, and pieces bored through the middle, as if to wear them round your neck—nearly every variety of money in the world must, I think, have found a place in that collection; and for number, I am sure they were like autumn leaves, so that my back ached with stooping and my fingers with sorting them out.


Alexandre Dumas

At the start of Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel, The Three Musketeers, we are introduced to D’Artagnan, brought to life for me by Michael York in the blockbuster films directed by Richard Lester, which also starred Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain, among a star-studded cast.

The word picture painted by Dumas the Elder (his son wrote The Lady with the Camellias) leaps from the page into the imagination too.

A young man – we can sketch his portrait at a dash. Imagine to yourself a Don Quixote of eighteen; a Don Quixote without his corselet, without his coat-of-mail, without his cuisses; a Don Quixote clothed in a woollen doublet, the blue colour of which had faded into a nameless shade between lees of wine and a heavenly azure; face long and brown; high cheek-bones, a sign of sagacity; the maxillary muscles enormously developed, an infallible sign by which a Gascon may always be detected, even without his cap – and our young man wore a cap set off with a sort of feather; the eye open and intelligent; the nose hooked but finely chiselled.

Masterly; although I cannot imagine any editor of the twenty-first century approving such a long-winded sentence! Dumas goes on to describe the young Gascon’s steed in similar vein.

This was a Béarn pony, from twelve to fourteen years old, yellow in his hide, without a hair in his tail but not without wind-galls on his legs, and who though going with his head lower than his knees, rendering a martingale quite unnecessary, contrived nevertheless to perform his eight leagues a day. Unfortunately, the qualities of this horse were so well concealed under his strange-coloured hide and his unaccountable gait, that at a time when everybody was a connoisseur in horseflesh, the appearance of the aforesaid pony at Meung – which place he had entered about a quarter of an hour before, by the gate of Beaugency – produced an unfavourable feeling, which extended to his rider.

You can see both D’Artagnan and his scraggy mount perfectly, can’t you? I still love these descriptions all these years later. Alexandre Dumas had a strange pedigree himself. His father was the illegitimate son of the Marquis de la Pailleterie and the ‘fascinating’ Negress, Marie Cessette Dumas. Thomas Alexandre Dumas enlisted as a dragoon in the French army and rose to the rank of divisional general during the French Revolution. He engineered the defeat of the Austrians at the bridge of Clausen in1797, as commander of Joubert’s cavalry, and during the campaign in Egypt had the audacity to speak his mind to Napoleon. Having lost favour, his rank and aristocratic blood were of no assistance in leaving an inheritance. The Emperor having a long and spiteful memory, he refused to help Alexandre and his mother. Much like D’Artagnan, his chronicler had to forge his own path.

Alexandre Dumas, Achille Deveria (1829)
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Three Musketeers is a classic tale of love, intrigue, passion, treachery, adventure and wit. If you have not read it, you should. It covers six hundred paperback pages… no film can encompass all that detail.

At the close of the novel, D’Artagnan, now in favour with Cardinal Richlieu, is handed a lieutenant’s commission in His Majesty’s Musketeers – the very thing he travelled to Paris to seek. He goes to each of his friends in turn to offer it to them, since the name has been left blank. Athos, Porthos and Aramis all politely refuse. He returns to Athos.

“Well,” said he, “they likewise have refused me.”
“That, dear friend, is because nobody is more worthy than yourself.”
He took a quill, wrote the name of D’Artagnan in the commission, and returned it to him.
“I shall then have no more friends,” said the young man. “Alas! Nothing but bitter recollections.”
“You are young,” replied Athos; “and your bitter recollections have time to change themselves into sweet remembrances.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Lord Byron

"O'er the glad waters of the dark blue sea,
Our thoughts as boundless, and our souls as free,
Far as the breeze can bear, the billows foam,
Survey our empire, and behold our home!
These are our realms, no limits to their sway—
Our flag the sceptre all who meet obey.
Ours the wild life in tumult still to range
From toil to rest, and joy in every change.
Oh, who can tell? not thou, luxurious slave!
Whose soul would sicken o'er the heaving wave;
Not thou, vain lord of Wantonness and Ease!
Whom Slumber soothes not—Pleasure cannot please—
Oh, who can tell, save he whose heart hath tried,
And danced in triumph o'er the waters wide,
The exulting sense—the pulse's maddening play,
That thrills the wanderer of that trackless way?
That for itself can woo the approaching fight,
And turn what some deem danger to delight;
That seeks what cravens shun with more than zeal,
And where the feebler faint can only feel—
Feel—to the rising bosom's inmost core,
Its hope awaken and its spirit soar?
No dread of Death—if with us die our foes—
Save that it seems even duller than repose;
Come when it will—we snatch the life of Life—
When lost—what recks it by disease or strife?
Let him who crawls, enamoured of decay,
Cling to his couch, and sicken years away;
Heave his thick breath, and shake his palsied head;
Ours the fresh turf, and not the feverish bed,—
While gasp by gasp he falters forth his soul,
Ours with one pang—one bound—escapes control.
His corse may boast its urn and narrow cave,
And they who loathed his life may gild his grave:
Ours are the tears, though few, sincerely shed,
When Ocean shrouds and sepulchres our dead.
For us, even banquets fond regret supply
In the red cup that crowns our memory;
And the brief epitaph in Danger's day,
When those who win at length divide the prey,
And cry, Remembrance saddening o'er each brow,
How had the brave who fell exulted now!"

This is the beginning of The Corsair, one of Lord Byron’s gloomy – and lengthy – tales told in verse. Others are Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and The Bride of Abydos. Conrad, the ‘paradoxical hero’ (he is both chivalrous and wicked) has been said to have been based on Byron himself and the poet’s travels in Greece. Certainly, there were Greek pirates sailing around the islands in 1809, when Byron was there. Conrad battles with a Turkish Pasha known as Seyd and conducts doomed love affairs with Gulnare and Medora.

I will admit I have not read all the poem as it is not to my taste. However, it was immensely popular and on its publication in 1814, it sold 10,000 copies. Not to be sniffed at! It seemed only right for Byron to be included in a Regency blog about quotations.

Lord Byron, Henry Pierce Bone
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The poem ends with verse XXIV

'Tis morn—to venture on his lonely hour
Few dare; though now Anselmo sought his tower.
He was not there, nor seen along the shore;
Ere night, alarmed, their isle is traversed o'er:
Another morn—another bids them seek, 1850
And shout his name till Echo waxeth weak;
Mount—grotto—cavern—valley searched in vain,
They find on shore a sea-boat's broken chain:
Their hope revives—they follow o'er the main.
'Tis idle all—moons roll on moons away,
And Conrad comes not, came not since that day:
Nor trace nor tidings of his doom declare
Where lives his grief, or perished his despair!
Long mourned his band whom none could mourn beside;
And fair the monument they gave his Bride: 1860
For him they raise not the recording stone—
His death yet dubious, deeds too widely known;
He left a Corsair's name to other times,
Linked with one virtue, and a thousand crimes

Charles Dickens

Who can forget the marvellous portrayals of Charles Dickens’ characters from Oliver Twist (The Parish Boy’s Progress) in the film version of Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver, starring Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Sarah Wallis and Mark Lester? Although a grim representation of crime, criminality and the dire treatment of orphans in the nineteenth century, the film has become a firm family favourite across the world.

Dickens’ novel was first published from 1837 – 1839, in a series of instalments in Bentley’s Miscellany, a monthly magazine. Engravings by George Cruikshank were incorporated to illustrate the text.

Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble, by the parish surgeon, it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether the child would survive to bear any name at all; in which case it is somewhat more than probable that these memoirs would never have appeared; or, if they had, that being comprised within a couple of pages, they would have possessed the inestimable merit of being the most concise and faithful specimen of biography, extant in the literature of any age or country.

Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a workhouse, is in itself the most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do mean to say that in this particular instance, it was the best thing for Oliver Twist that could by possibility have occurred. The fact is, that there was considerable difficulty in inducing Oliver to take upon himself the office of respiration,—a troublesome practice, but one which custom has rendered necessary to our easy existence; and for some time he lay gasping on a little flock mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the next: the balance being decidedly in favour of the latter. Now, if, during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time. There being nobody by, however, but a pauper old woman, who was rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer; and a parish surgeon who did such matters by contract; Oliver and Nature fought out the point between them. The result was, that, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed, and proceeded to advertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact of a new burden having been imposed upon the parish, by setting up as loud a cry as could reasonably have been expected from a male infant who had not been possessed of that very useful appendage, a voice, for a much longer space of time than three minutes and a quarter.

This is how Dickens introduces us to Oliver Twist and the unfortunate circumstances of his birth. In due course, Oliver is sold to Mr. Sowerby, the undertaker, who treats him fairly, but his wife, jealous perhaps of the affection her husband has for the boy, starves and mistreats him. Oliver runs away to London, where he falls in with personable pickpocket the Artful Dodger (Jack Wild in the film), and unwittingly becomes one of the gang presided over by Fagin, wonderfully played by Ron Moody. 

Dodger Introduces Oliver to Fagin
by George Cruikshank

The Dodger said nothing, but he smoothed Oliver's hair over his eyes, and said he'd know better, by and by; upon which the old gentleman, observing Oliver's colour mounting, changed the subject by asking whether there had been much of a crowd at the execution that morning? This made him wonder more and more; for it was plain from the replies of the two boys that they had both been there; and Oliver naturally wondered how they could possibly have found time to be so very industrious.

When the breakfast was cleared away; the merry old gentleman and the two boys played at a very curious and uncommon game, which was performed in this way. The merry old gentleman, placing a snuff-box in one pocket of his trousers, a note-case in the other, and a watch in his waistcoat pocket, with a guard-chain round his neck, and sticking a mock diamond pin in his shirt: buttoned his coat tight round him, and putting his spectacle-case and handkerchief in his pockets, trotted up and down the room with a stick, in imitation of the manner in which old gentlemen walk about the streets any hour in the day. Sometimes he stopped at the fire-place, and sometimes at the door, making believe that he was staring with all his might into shop-windows. At such times, he would look constantly round him, for fear of thieves, and would keep slapping all his pockets in turn, to see that he hadn't lost anything, in such a very funny and natural manner, that Oliver laughed till the tears ran down his face. All this time, the two boys followed him closely about: getting out of his sight, so nimbly, every time he turned round, that it was impossible to follow their motions. At last, the Dodger trod upon his toes, or ran upon his boot accidently, while Charley Bates stumbled up against him behind; and in that one moment they took from him, with the most extraordinary rapidity, snuff-box, note-case, watch-guard, chain, shirt-pin, pocket-handkerchief, even the spectacle-case. If the old gentleman felt a hand in any one of his pockets, he cried out where it was; and then the game began all over again.

When this game had been played a great many times, a couple of young ladies called to see the young gentleman; one of whom was named Bet, and the other Nancy. They wore a good deal of hair, not very neatly turned up behind, and were rather untidy about the shoes and stockings. They were not exactly pretty, perhaps; but they had a great deal of colour in their faces, and looked quite stout and hearty. Being remarkably free and agreeable in their manners, Oliver thought them very nice girls indeed. As there is no doubt they were.

Nancy is in love with the villainous Bill Sikes and betrays Oliver, whereby he is kidnapped in order to commit a burglary. She does still have a shred of humanity left, however and takes steps to atone for her wrongdoing by informing Oliver’s benefactor Mr. Brownlow, who had taken Oliver in following his wrongful arrest for stealing a handkerchief. All ends happily, since the intended victim of the robbery, Miss Rose Maylie, turns out to be Oliver’s aunt and Oliver himself takes up his home with Mr. Brownlow.

It is a masterly tale: storytelling at it’s very best!

Lady Caroline Lamb

In the town of Belfont, in Ireland, lived a learned physician of the name of Everard St. Clare. He had a brother, who, misled by a fine but wild imagination, which raised him too far above the interests of common life, had squandered away his small inheritance; and had long roved through the world, rapt in poetic visions, foretelling, as he pretended, to those who would hear him, that which futurity would more fully develop. — Camioli was the name he had assumed.

It was many years since Sir Everard last beheld his brother, when one night Camioli, bearing in his arms Elinor his child, about five years of age, returned, after long absence, to his native town, and knocked at Sir Everard’s door. The doctor was at the castle hard by, and his lady refused admittance to the mean-looking stranger. Without informing her of his name, Camioli departed, and resolved to seek his sister the Abbess of Glenaa. The way to the convent was long and dreary: he climbed, therefore, with his lovely burden to the topmost heights of Inis Tara, and sought temporary shelter in a cleft of the mountain known by the name of the “Wizard’s Glen.” Bright shone the stars that night, and to the imagination of the aged seer, it seemed in sleep, that the spirits of departed heroes and countrymen, freed from the bonds of mortality, were ascending in solemn grandeur before his eyes; —Glenarvon’s form appeared before him—his patron! his benefactor!—he spoke of times long past, of scenes by all forgot, pointed with a look of despondency to his infant son!—“Who shall protect the orphan that is destitute ?” he cried— “who shall restore him to the house of his fathers!”

So begins Glenarvon, the infamous first novel penned by Lady Caroline Lamb and published in 1816 by Henry Colburn of Conduit Street. Written in three volumes, as was customary at the time, it was published anonymously, although the polite world was in no doubt of its author. The novel featured thinly veiled caricatures of members of the haut ton, most especially Lord Byron, Lady Caroline’s erstwhile lover.

Lady Caroline (1785-1828) may have achieved her revenge on Byron for his spurning of her, but it cost her dearly. The book was a huge success and was the talk of Polite Society. However, while the Beau Monde delighted in reading about Caroline’s affairs and recognising her victims in the biting descriptions, those prominent figures whom had been satirized were deeply resentful. Lady Jersey, one of the formidable patronesses of Almack’s, the hallowed ballroom of fashion, was the subject of perhaps the most hurtful portrayal and salved her outrage by refusing Caroline admittance. There could be no return from this condemnation; Caroline had overstepped the invisible line and indeed, although Emily Cowper, her sister-in-law, succeeded in getting Caroline’s vouchers restored, the damage had been done to her reputation and she was never fully accepted in Society after that.

The title character in Glenarvon is the wicked rake, Lord de Ruthven. He corrupts the young bride, Calantha (easily recognizable as Caroline), thus beginning a downward spiral into depravity which ends in their ruin and death.

Lady Caroline Lamb by Thomas Lawrence
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

How different from the animated discussion at Lady Mandeville's, was the loud laugh and boisterous tone of Lady Augusta Selwyn, whom Calantha found, on her return, at that very moment stepping from her carriage, and enquiring for her. “Ah, my dear sweet friend,” she cried, flying towards Calantha, and shaking her painfully by the hand, " this fortuitous concurrence of atoms, fills my soul with rapture. But I was resolved to see you. I have promised and vowed three things in your name; therefore, consider me as your sponsor, and indeed I am old enough to be such. In the first place, you must come to me to-night, for I have a little supper, and all my guests attend only in the hope of meeting you. You are the bribe I have held out—you are to stand me in lieu of a good house, good cook, agreeable husband, and pretty face—in all of which I am most unfortunately deficient. Having confessed thus much, it would be barbarous, it would be inhuman you know to refuse me. Now for the second favour,” continued this energetic lady: —“come alone; for though I have a great respect for Mrs. and Miss Seymour, yet I never know what I am about when their very sensible eyes are fixed upon me.'”—“Oh you need not fear, Sophia would not come if I wished it; and Mrs. Seymour”—“1 have something else to suggest,'” interrupted Lady Augusta: “introduce me immediately to your husband: he is divine, I hear—perfectly divine!” “I cannot at this moment; but”—“By the bye, why were you not at the ball last night. I can tell you there were some I who expected you there. Yes, I assure you, a pair of languid blue eyes watching for you—a fascinating new friend waiting to take you home to a petit souper très bien assorti. I went myself. It was monstrously dull at the ball—insupportable, I assure you; perfectly so. Mrs. Turner and her nine daughters! It is quite a public calamity, Mrs. Turner being so very prolific—the produce so frightful. Amongst other animals when they commit such blunders, the brood is drowned ; but we christians are suffered to grow up till the land is overrun.” “Heighho” “What is the matter? You look so triste to-day, not even my wit can enliven you. —Is’nt it well, love? or has its husband been plaguing it ? Now 1 have it: you have, perchance, been translating an Ode of Pindar. I was there myself this morning; and it gave me the vapours for ten minutes; but I am used to these things you know child, and you are a novice. By the bye, where is your cousin, le beau capitaine, le chef des brigands? I was quite frappé with his appearance.” “You may think it strange,” said Calantha, “but I have not seen him these eight years—not since he was quite a child.” “Oh, what an interview there will be then,” said Lady Augusta: “he is a perfect ruffian.” “Now are you aware that we have three sets of men much in request?—There are these ruffians, who affect to be desperate, who game, who drink, who fight, who will captivate you, 1 am sure of it; for they are always just going to be destroyed, or rather talk as if they were; and every thing they do, they must do it to desperation. Then come the exquisites. Lord Dallas is one, a sort of refined petit maitre, quite thorough bred though, and yet full of conceit. As to the third set, your useful men, who know how to read and write, in which class critics, reviewers, politicians and poets stand, you may always know them by their slovenly appearance. But you are freezing, mon enfant. What can be the matter? I will release you in a moment from my visitation; yet I have ten thousand things to say.—Will you come to my opera box Tuesday ? Are you going to the masked ball Thursday? Has Mrs. Churchill sent to you for her déjeuné pare. I know she wishes, more than I can express, to have you. Perhaps you will let me drive you there. My ponies are beautiful arabians: have you seen them? Oh, by the bye, why were you not at your aunt Lady Margaret’s concert? I believe it was a concert: there was a melancholy noise in one of the rooms; but I did not attend to it.—Do you not like music?”—“O yes 1 do; but I must own I am not one who profess to be all enchantment at the scraping of a fiddle, because some old philharmonic plays on it; nor can I admire the gurgling and groaning of a number of foreigners, because it is called singing... As to you, they tell me you think of nothing but love and poetry. I dare say you write sonnets to the moon—the chaste moon, and your husband. How sentimental!” “And you,”—“No, my dear, I thank heaven, I never could make a rhyme in my life.—Farewell—adieu—remember to-night—bring Lord Avondale—that divine Henry: though beware too; for many a lady has to mourn the loss of her husband, as soon as she has introduced him into the society of fascinating friends.” “He is out of town.” “Then so much the better. After all, a wife is only pleasant when her husband is out of the way. She must either be in love, or out of love with him. If the latter, they wrangle; and if the former, it is ten times worse. Lovers are at all times insufferable; but when the holy laws of matrimony give them a lawful right to be so amazingly fond and affectionate, it makes one sick.” “Which are you, in love or out of love with Mr. Selwyn?”—“'Neither, child, neither. He never molests me, never intrudes his dear dull personage on my society; and I leave him entirely to himself in return: for he is the best of his race, and only married me out of pure benevolence. We were fourteen raw Scotch girls—all hideous, and no chance of being got rid of, either by marriage or death—so healthy and ugly. I believe we are all alive and flourishing some where or other now. Think then of dear good Mr. Selwyn, who took me for his mate, because I let him play at cards whenever he pleased, and he is so fond of cheating, he never can get anyone but me to play with him. Farewell.—A revoir.—I shall expect you at ten.—Adieu, chère petite.” Saying which Lady Augusta descended the stairs, her voice murmuring on to herself as she re-entered her carriage, and drove from the door.

Phew! I am exhausted, just reading that! Poor, dear Lady Jersey, whose nickname was ‘Silence’, was most cruelly personified in Mrs. Augusta Selwyn. I don’t wonder she was incensed!

Horace Walpole

Manfred, Prince of Otranto, had one son and one daughter: the latter, a most beautiful virgin, aged eighteen, was called Matilda.  Conrad, the son, was three years younger, a homely youth, sickly, and of no promising disposition; yet he was the darling of his father, who never showed any symptoms of affection to Matilda. Manfred had contracted a marriage for his son with the Marquis of Vicenza’s daughter, Isabella; and she had already been delivered by her guardians into the hands of Manfred, that he might celebrate the wedding as soon as Conrad’s infirm state of health would permit.

Manfred’s impatience for this ceremonial was remarked by his family and neighbours. The former, indeed, apprehending the severity of their Prince’s disposition, did not dare to utter their surmises on this precipitation. Hippolita, his wife, an amiable lady, did sometimes venture to represent the danger of marrying their only son so early, considering his great youth, and greater infirmities; but she never received any other answer than reflections on her own sterility, who had given him but one heir. His tenants and subjects were less cautious in their discourses. They attributed this hasty wedding to the Prince’s dread of seeing accomplished an ancient prophecy, which was said to have pronounced that the castle and lordship of Otranto “should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.” It was difficult to make any sense of this prophecy; and still less easy to conceive what it had to do with the marriage in question. Yet these mysteries, or contradictions, did not make the populace adhere the less to their opinion.

Thus begins The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story by Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford. It is considered to be the first Gothic novel and was published in 1764. Walpole claimed the tale came from a dream he’d had, whence, all I could recover was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head like mine, filled with Gothic story), and that on the uppermost banister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armourIn the evening I sat down and began to write, without knowing in the least what I intended to say or relate.”

Conrad is crushed to death by a giant helmet before the wedding and to avert disaster, Manfred decides to marry Isabella himself and divorce Hippolita. Isabella escapes with the aid of a peasant called Theodore, who is later imprisoned by Manfred and then released by Matilda. Theodore hides Isabella in a cave, but while he is meeting Matilda in a church, Manfred storms in and by mistake kills his own daughter.

Matilda raised her eyes at her mother’s voice, but closed them again without speaking.  Her sinking pulse and the damp coldness of her hand soon dispelled all hopes of recovery.  Theodore followed the surgeons into the outer chamber, and heard them pronounce the fatal sentence with a transport equal to frenzy.

“Since she cannot live mine,” cried he, “at least she shall be mine in death! Father! Jerome! will you not join our hands?” cried he to the Friar, who, with the Marquis, had accompanied the surgeons.

“What means thy distracted rashness?” said Jerome. “Is this an hour for marriage?”

“It is, it is,” cried Theodore. “Alas! there is no other!”

“Young man, thou art too unadvised,” said Frederic. “Dost thou think we are to listen to thy fond transports in this hour of fate? What pretensions hast thou to the Princess?”

“Those of a Prince,” said Theodore; “of the sovereign of Otranto. This reverend man, my father, has informed me who I am.”

“Thou ravest,” said the Marquis. “There is no Prince of Otranto but myself, now Manfred, by murder, by sacrilegious murder, has forfeited all pretensions.”

“My Lord,” said Jerome, assuming an air of command, “he tells you true. It was not my purpose the secret should have been divulged so soon, but fate presses onward to its work.  What his hot-headed passion has revealed, my tongue confirms. Know, Prince, that when Alfonso set sail for the Holy Land—”

“Is this a season for explanations?” cried Theodore. “Father, come and unite me to the Princess; she shall be mine! In every other thing I will dutifully obey you. My life! my adored Matilda!” continued Theodore, rushing back into the inner chamber, “will you not be mine?  Will you not bless your—”

Isabella made signs to him to be silent, apprehending the Princess was near her end.

“What, is she dead?” cried Theodore; “is it possible!”

Horace Walpole, by John Giles Eccardt
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Charlotte Brontë

THERE was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering-, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question.

I was glad of it; I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.

So begins Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë, the novel brought to life by a succession of distinguished actors and actresses. It was published on 16 October 1847 by Smith, Elder & Co. under the pen name of Currer Bell. What a great pair of paragraphs to capture the reader’s interest. You cannot help but want to know why the narrator (Jane) is physically inferior to her companions and are thus committed to reading on. Charlotte wrote several books, including poetry; her other best-known work is probably Villette.

When Jane leaves Mr. Rochester and Thornfield Hall, she goes to live with her cousins, Diana and Mary, at Moor House. St. John, the ladies’ brother, asks her to take a walk with him one day, whence he proposes – or, rather, asks her to be a missionary in India with him, for which they must be married.

Consent, then, to his demand is possible: but for one item— one dreadful item. It is—that he asks me to be his wife, and has no more of a husband's heart for me than that frowning giant of a rock, down which the stream is foaming in yonder gorge. He prizes me as a soldier would a good weapon; and that is all. Unmarried to him, this would never grieve me; but can 1 let him complete his calculations—coolly put into practice his plans—go through the wedding ceremony? Can I receive from him the bridal ring, endure all the forms of love (which I doubt not he would scrupulously observe) and know that the spirit was quite absent? Can I bear the consciousness that every endearment he bestows is a sacrifice made on principle? No; such a martyrdom would be monstrous. I will never undergo it. As his sister I might accompany him—not as his wife; I will tell him so."

Jane cannot forget Mr. Rochester and when her uncle dies and leaves her twenty thousand pounds, she insists the cousins all receive five thousand pounds each. Now a woman of means, she returns to the man she once thought to marry. Mr. Rochester, the tortured hero, is a widower and free to be hers, his wife having died when Thornfield was devastated by fire. In trying to save poor, mad Bertha, who started the fire, Edward Rochester does not go unscathed.

His form was of the same strong and stalwart contour as ever: his port was still erect, his hair was still raven-black; nor were his features altered or sunk; not in one year's space, by any sorrow, could his athletic strength be quelled, or his vigorous prime blighted. But in his countenance I saw a change: that looked desperate and brooding—that reminded me of some wronged and fettered wild beast or bird, dangerous to approach in his sullen woe. The caged eagle, whose gold-ringed eyes cruelty has extinguished, might look as looked that sightless Samson.

Jane Eyre Title Page
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Jane has found Rochester at Fearndean, a desolate house surrounded by forest.

This parlour looked gloomy: a neglected handful of fire burnt low in the grate; and leaning over it, with his head supported against the high, old-fashioned mantelpiece, appeared the blind tenant of the room. His old dog, Pilot, lay on one side, removed out of the way, and coiled up as if afraid of being inadvertently trodden upon. Pilot pricked up his ears when I came in: then he jumped up with a yelp and a whine, and bounded towards me: he almost knocked the tray from my hands. I set it on the table; then patted him, and said softly, "Lie down!" Mr. Rochester turned mechanically to see what the commotion was: but as he saw nothing, he returned and sighed.

"Give me the water, Mary," he said.

Jane Eyre, believed to be by George Richmond (1850)
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

"Who is it? What is it? Who speaks?"

"Pilot knows me, and John and Mary know I am here. I came only this evening," I answered. "Great God!—what delusion has come over me? What sweet madness has seized me?"
"No delusion—no madness: your mind, sir, is too strong for delusion, your health too sound for frenzy."

"And where is the speaker? Is it only a voice? Oh 1 I can' not see, but I must feel, or my heart will stop and my brain burst. Whatever—whoever you are—be perceptible to the touch or I cannot live!" He groped; I arrested his wandering hand, and prisoned it in both mine.

"Her very fingers!" he cried. "Her small, slight fingers! If so, there must be more of her!" The muscular hand broke from my custody; my arm was seized, my shoulder—neck—waist—I was entwined, and gathered to him.

"Is it Jane? What is it? This is her shape—this is her size."

"And this her voice." I added. "She is all here: her heart too. God bless you, sir! I am glad to be so near you again."

"Jane Eyre I—Jane Eyre!" was all he said.

"My dear master," I answered, "I am Jane Eyre: I have found you out—I am come back to you."

"In truth?—in the flesh? My living Jane?"

"You touch me, sir—you hold me, and fast enough; I am not cold like a corpse, nor vacant like air, am I?"

"My living darling! These are certainly her limbs, and these her features; but I cannot be so blest, after all my misery. It is a dream; such dreams as I have had at night when I have clasped her once more to my heart, as I do now ; and kissed her, as thus—and felt that she loved me, and trusted that she would not leave me."

The intensity and passion of Jane Eyre is said to have revolutionized the art of fiction.

Elizabeth Gaskell

No fan of BBC costume drama can have failed to enjoy the superlative talents of Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. I am sure it contributed greatly to the novel’s standing as one of the author’s most popular works, in itself a stirring tale of a girl brought up in the south of England who finds herself living in Manchester, where she comes into conflict with the enigmatic Industrialist, Mr. Thornton.

'Edith!' said Margaret, gently, 'Edith!'

But, as Margaret half suspected, Edith had fallen asleep. She lay curled up on the sofa in the back drawing-room in Harley Street, looking very lovely in her white muslin and blue ribbons. If Titania had ever been dressed in white muslin and blue ribbons, and had fallen asleep on a crimson damask sofa in a back drawing-room, Edith might have been taken for her. Margaret was struck afresh by her cousin's beauty. They had grown up together from childhood, and all along Edith had been remarked upon by every one, except Margaret, for her prettiness; but Margaret had never thought about it until the last few days, when the prospect of soon losing her companion seemed to give force to every sweet quality and charm which Edith possessed. They had been talking about wedding dresses, and wedding ceremonies; and Captain Lennox, and what he had told Edith about her future life at Corfu, where his regiment was stationed; and the difficulty of keeping a piano in good tune (a difficulty which Edith seemed to consider as one of the most formidable that could befall her in her married life), and what gowns she should want in the visits to Scotland, which would immediately succeed her marriage; but the whispered tone had latterly become more drowsy; and Margaret, after a pause of a few minutes, found, as she fancied, that in spite of the buzz in the next room, Edith had rolled herself up into a soft ball of muslin and ribbon, and silken curls, and gone off into a peaceful little after-dinner nap. 

Thus begins the story of North and South, and the reader is instantly hooked. I can see Edith perfectly, can’t you? The novel was published in 1854, following Cranford the year before. Another popular novel, Wives and Daughters, was released in 1865, the year of Elizabeth Gaskell’s death. 

In the final chapter, Margaret is making a business proposition to Mr. Thornton, who is in danger of losing his mill.

Mr. Thornton did not speak, and she went on looking for some paper on which were written down the proposals for security; for she was most anxious to have it all looked upon in the light of a mere business arrangement, in which the principal advantage would be on her side. While she sought for this paper, her very heart-pulse was arrested by the tone in which Mr. Thornton spoke. His voice was hoarse, and trembling with tender passion, as he said:— 'Margaret!' For an instant she looked up; and then sought to veil her luminous eyes by dropping her forehead on her hands. Again, stepping nearer, he besought her with another tremulous eager call upon her name. 'Margaret!' Still lower went the head; more closely hidden was the face, almost resting on the table before her. He came close to her. He knelt by her side, to bring his face to a level with her ear; and whispered-panted out the words:— 'Take care.— If you do not speak— I shall claim you as my own in some strange presumptuous way.— Send me away at once, if I must go;— Margaret!—'

Elizabeth Gaskell by William John Thornton
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Sir Walter Scott

It is, then, sixty years since Edward Waverley, the hero of the following pages, took leave of his family, to join the regiment of dragoons in which he had lately obtained a commission. It was a melancholy day at Waverley-Honour when the young officer parted with Sir Everard, the affectionate old uncle to whose title and estate he was presumptive heir.

This is how Sir Walter Scott begins the first book of the succession of works called The Waverley Novels. Waverley was first published anonymously in 1814 and is widely considered the first historical novel. The start of Chapter VII sees Edward Waverley embark on a military career: not quite the fast-paced narrative we authors are encouraged to pen nowadays!

The next morning, amid varied feelings, the chief of which was a predominant, anxious, and even solemn impression, that he was now in a great measure abandoned to his own guidance and direction, Edward Waverley departed from the Hall amid the blessings and tears of all the old domestics and the inhabitants of the village, mingled with some sly petitions for sergeantcies and corporalships, and so forth, on the part of those who professed that 'they never thoft to ha' seen Jacob, and Giles, and Jonathan go off for soldiers, save to attend his honour, as in duty bound.' Edward, as in duty bound, extricated himself from the supplicants with the pledge of fewer promises than might have been expected from a young man so little accustomed to the world. After a short visit to London, he proceeded on horseback, then the general mode of travelling, to Edinburgh, and from thence to Dundee, a seaport on the eastern coast of Angus-shire, where his regiment was then quartered.

He now entered upon a new world, where, for a time, all was beautiful because all was new. Colonel Gardiner, the commanding officer of the regiment, was himself a study for a romantic, and at the same time an inquisitive youth. In person he was tall, handsome, and active, though somewhat advanced in life. In his early years he had been what is called, by manner of palliative, a very gay young man, and strange stories were circulated about his sudden conversion from doubt, if not infidelity, to a serious and even enthusiastic turn of mind. It was whispered that a supernatural communication, of a nature obvious even to the exterior senses, had produced this wonderful change; and though some mentioned the proselyte as an enthusiast, none hinted at his being a hypocrite. This singular and mystical circumstance gave Colonel Gardiner a peculiar and solemn interest in the eyes of the young soldier. [Footnote: See Note 5.] It may be easily imagined that the officers, of a regiment commanded by so respectable a person composed a society more sedate and orderly than a military mess always exhibits; and that Waverley escaped some temptations to which he might otherwise have been exposed.

Meanwhile his military education proceeded. Already a good horseman, he was now initiated into the arts of the manege, which, when carried to perfection, almost realise the fable of the Centaur, the guidance of the horse appearing to proceed from the rider's mere volition, rather than from the use of any external and apparent signal of motion. He received also instructions in his field duty; but I must own, that when his first ardour was past, his progress fell short in the latter particular of what he wished and expected. The duty of an officer, the most imposing of all others to the inexperienced mind, because accompanied with so much outward pomp and circumstance, is in its essence a very dry and abstract task, depending chiefly upon arithmetical combinations, requiring much attention, and a cool and reasoning head to bring them into action. Our hero was liable to fits of absence, in which his blunders excited some mirth, and called down some reproof. This circumstance impressed him with a painful sense of inferiority in those qualities which appeared most to deserve and obtain regard in his new profession. He asked himself in vain, why his eye could not judge of distance or space so well as those of his companions; why his head was not always successful in disentangling the various partial movements necessary to execute a particular evolution; and why his memory, so alert upon most occasions, did not correctly retain technical phrases and minute points of etiquette or field discipline.

Sir Walter Scott by Raeburn
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Jane Austen

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father, and had, in consequence of her sister’s marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses, and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.

Thus begins ‘Emma’, published by John Murray on 29 December, 1815, the writer named merely as ‘the author of Pride and Prejudice’. The then unknown novelist received her first review in March of the following year, albeit anonymously, from no lesser personage than Sir Walter Scott.

Citing Jane Austen as a pioneer, he extolled her for, ‘presenting to the reader, instead of the splendid scenes of an imaginary world, a correct and striking representation of that which is daily taking place around him.’

Would that we all could receive reviews like that! Towards the end of the book comes this snippet, as Emma reflects on the consequences of her behaviour.

All that were good would be withdrawn; and if to these losses the loss of Donwell were to be added, what would remain of cheerful or of rational society within their reach? Mr. Knightley to be no longer coming there for his evening comfort! No longer walking in at all hours, as if ever willing to change his own home for theirs! How was it to be endured? And if her were to be lost to them for Harriet’s sake; if he were to be thought of hereafter as finding in Harriet’s society all that he wanted; if Harriet were to be chosen, the first, the dearest, the friend, the wife to whom he looked for all the best blessings of existence; what could be increasing Emma’s wretchedness but the reflection never far distant from her mind, that it had been all her own work?

Jane Austen
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Georgette Heyer

Who else could be first choice, but the Queen of Regency herself, Georgette Heyer?

This short quote comes from Faro's Daughter, which was first published by Wm. Heinemann Ltd. in 1941.

"You will find it very inconvenient to keep me in your cellar indefinitely, I imagine, but I must warn you I have not the smallest intention of leaving it, except upon my own terms."

"But you cannot let the race go like that!" cried Deborah, aghast.

"Oh, have you backed me to win?" he said mockingly. "So much the worse for you, my girl!"

The Hazard Room, by Rowlandson
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons


  1. You got me hooked with North and South...

  2. I'm a fan of classic literature, too. Nice to see some quotes from some of my favorites here.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    1. If you care to visit the rest of the blog, you will see I love and write Regency. I virtually devoured books when I was growing up, especially those of Georgette Heyer! Thank you for taking the trouble to comment. I'm glad you enjoyed this page.

  3. I have read most of Austen's some of Gaskells but only dipped into one of Georgette Heyer! I really must give her another go. I really do love a good historical romance.

    1. In my humble opinion, Georgette Heyer's Regency novels take a lot of beating. The historical detail is incredible, especially when you consider she did not have access to the internet as we do today. I do my poor best to follow where she has so magnificently led!

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  5. Have read so many of these books!! Thanks for a trip down memory lane!