Friday, May - 1827
I had appointed this morning with my friend W, for a visit to the gallery of paintings at Dulwich College; and he was to obtain from a printseller an admission ticket and bring it with him. He came furnished with the ticket, but as the ticket provided that the public were not admitted on a Friday, our seeing the pictures was out of the question. Neither of us however was in a humour to be disappointed of a holiday; we therefore set out in the direction we had intended. A coachman hailed us from the box of a Dulwich stage; we gave him an assenting nod, and mounted the roof; and after a brisk drive through Walworth and Camberwell, which are now no other way distinguishable from the metropolis, than by the irregular sizes of the houses and the bits of sickly grass and bottle-green poplars that further diversify them, we attained to the sight of the first out-of-town looking trees and verdure on the ascent towards Herne hill. Here we began to feel “another air”, and during the calm drive down the hill into Dulwich - the prettiest of all the village entrances in the environs of London - we had glimpses, between the elms and sycamores, of pleasant lawns and blooming gardens, with bursts of the fine distances. The calm of the scene was heightened by the note of a cuckoo; it was no “note of fear” to us - we remembered our good wives surrounded by their families; they had greeted our departure with smiles, and hopes that the day would be pleasant, and that we should enjoy ourselves; - the mother and children rejoiced in “father’s holiday” as a day of happiness to them, because it would make him happier.
Leaving Dulwich College on our right with an useless regret that by our mistake as to the day the picture gallery was closed to us, we indulged in a passing remark on the discrepancies of the building - the hall and west wing of the Elizabethan age; the east wing in the Vanburgh style; and the gallery differing from each’ Alighting, just beyond . at the end of the old road, and crossing to the new one in the same line, we diligently perused an awful notice from the parochial authorities against offenders and acquainted ourselves with the rewards for apprehending them. The board seemed to be a standing argument in behalf of reading and writing, in opposition to some of the respectable inhabitants of Dulwich, who consider ignorance the exclusive property of labourers and servants, which they cannot be deprived of without injury to their morals.
A gate in the road was opened to us by a poor woman, who had seen our approach from her road-side dwelling: she had the care of collecting the toll from horsemen and carriage drivers - we were foot passengers, and credited our tailors for the civility . At a few yards beyond the turnpike we stopped to read a dictatorial intimation: - “All trespassers on these woods will be prosecuted, and the constables have orders to take them into custody.” I am not sure that there is a “physiognomy of hand-writing,” but I am a believer in the physiognomy of style, and the features of this bespoke of Buonaparte of the hundred who had partaken of the carvings under an enclosure act. No part was fenced off from the common-road and the land had been open to all till spoilation deprived the commoners of their ancient right, and annexed the common soil to a neighbouring domain. Whose it now is, by law, I know not, nor inquired . I look around, and cottages have disappeared, and there are villas instead; and the workhouses are enlarged, and instead of labour, tread-mills are provided. According to a political economy of ancient times, “There us much food in the tillage of the poor,” and “He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” To whom of old was it said “The spoil of the poor is in your houses>”
Ascending the hill, and leaving on the left hand a large house, newly built by a timber merchant, with a young plantations that require years of growth before they can attain sufficient strength to defend the mansion from the winds, we reached the summit of the hill and found a direction post that pointed to a choice of several roads. We strolled through into one leading to Penge Common through enclosed woodlands. Our ears were charmed by throngs of sweet singing birds; we were in a cathedral of the feathered tribes, when “ every denomination” chanted rapturous praises and thanksgivings ; the verger robins twittered as they accompanied us with their full sparkling eyes and bright liveried breasts.-
Chiefs of the choir, and highest in the heavens
As emulous to join the angels’ songs,
Were soaring larks; and some had dared so far
They seem’d like atoms sailing in the light;
Their voices and themselves were scarce discern’d
Above their comrades, who, in lower air
Hung buoyant, brooding melody, that fell
Streaming and gushing, on our thirsty ears.
In this celestial chancel we remain’d
To reverence these creatures’ loud Te Deum-
A holy office of their simple natures
To Him- the great Creator and Preserver-
Whom they instinctively adored.
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