Page images

how to use it, a glance round the church will show him what ground he is upon, and what families he is at liberty to connect with the place. High up in the tracery of some window, or far back in some neglected corner, he will spy a bit of coloured glass, half covered with whitewash, turned inside-out or topsy-turvy by some un-archæological glazier, a fragment which nobody perhaps had thought of noticing before; he asks the clerk for a ladder, which when that astonished functionary has produced, your antiquary creeps up, puts on his spectacles, scrapes off the whitewash, detects some faded mark of ancient chivalry, something which tells him, as plainly as if he were reading it in a book, that he is within an old dominion of Seymour, or Hungerford, or Scrope.

Our parish churches are therefore places that require very close examination; but the labour of visiting so many, of copying inscriptions, and of describing architecture, -of doing all this, perhaps, in unfortunate weather, or under pressure of time, is a great tax upon the patience of a single individual; who after all can only have one pair of hands and one pair of eyes. It is, therefore, in the power of the resident clergy, either by themselves, or someone under their direction, to be well acquainted with all the history and contents of their own churches. They are on the spot; know the local history ; can easily get drawings and copies of memorials. It would be no very great trouble to put these things down, on rainy days, in a book kept for the purpose, and marked “ parochial,

-not to be removed or destroyed.” If this had been done years ago, and if every parish chest contained, besides the official registers, some such archæological volume, in which successive incumbents had only entered the several changes and events—and few enough they often are that would require to be noted); still, if this had been done, or even were now to be done, you may easily conceive how useful and welcome a mass of materials would be ready, whenever the general dealer in literature of this kind should go his round, with the intention of embodying the collections in one systematic history. Nobody but those who have tried it can tell how much trouble it takes to prepare, correctly and properly, the materials for the memoir even of one parish. What then must it be where there are hundreds to be described ? And how greatly is that difficulty increased when centuries have passed away; when family after family has died out, when their very names have been lost from the list of living county gentry, and the site of their once hospitable castle or mansion has become a pasture for flocks; leaving only tradition to tell the tale.

Certainly, an imaginative mind may fill up blanks, and supply the want of regular history. Some writer of works of fancy may visit our ancient monuments, strike his magic wand upon them, and conjure up for our delight the forms and sights of ancient days. Imagination may do anything; and to digress for one mo

ment, whilst the word is on my lips, I cannot help expressing my surprise that it has not done something for Wiltshire. We have, or rather I am ashamed to say we had, one of the most singular monuments of remote history that the whole world could exħibit. The Temple that once stood at Avebury was, perhaps unique. It was a most extraordinary structure, connected probably with the earliest inhabitants of our native land. And when any person contrasts in his mind the wonderful transformation that has passed over England; the changes that this little island now presents, teeming as it does with civilization and wealth-commanding as it does, the commerce and luxury of the world ; I say that is almost impossible, without the help of a strong imagination, to carry oneself back to the days of Avebury. We want some author of Ivanhoe to bring those days back before our eyes. Of the destruction of that temple I am ashamed to speak. It was an act of barbarism : a national disgrace.

But in wandering to Avebury we are getting upon a subject and upon times too remote to be enlightened by historical researches. No illustrations of that dark period have come down to us, and the topographer is not at liberty to invent them. He must keep to facts, and produce evidence for his statements. I was saying that it was very hard and very weary work, when the enquiry extends over a large district, to recover evidence and materials for history. It is so even with respect to times comparatively modern: for the memory of persons and things soon passes away. With the circumstances of our own neighbourhoods as they now are—with the parishes, the places, the events—we are all of us familiar enough. But it is this very familiarity which blinds us. In a few years, a very few, much fewer than we are apt to think of, all that we now know of local events and persons will have faded into oblivion, unless some one records it. The changes that are daily taking place, and that seem to us to be mere matters of course, following one another as naturally as wave follows wave, amount in the course even of half a century, almost to obliteration—to an effacement almost as complete as that which those waves make upon the sand of the sea-shore. A new order of things soon grows up, and of the former one nothing but fragments can be recovered. Some Aubrey jots down a few passing memoranda of his own times—things which those about him would hardly take notice of, knowing them so well as they do, and supposing that they will always be as well known as they are; but let a couple of hundred years go by, and what was common and notorious has grown to be antique and curious.

I have addressed you now at an unpardonable length upon the particular subject of Wiltshire Topography, having been, as it is by this time too late to explain, rather given to pursuits of that kind myself. It is with pleasure that I join this Society, hoping that it may soon number amongst the other rational objects which it proposes, that of some effort to complete the History of the County. The use that it may be of in this respect, I have endeavoured to describe. It is, in a word, that of effecting, by the coöperation of many, a task which you will not easily find one person fit to undertake alone. Not that such a task is beyond the strength of one person, if he had life before him, and certainty of health and encouragement. The undescribed part of Wiltshire is not so frightfully large. But it needs no oracle to tell you, that many are better than one, when hard work is to be done. One able-bodied man, or a man and a boy, might make your branch railway from Devizes to Melksham; but I think none of us would live to ride upon it. And so a single person may write the history of the hundred-andfifty or more of parishes that remain to be described in this part of the county. But some of us, at all events, would not live to read it. It is a task which requires a number of opportunities and qualifications which are more likely to be found in several persons than in any one. And even if any one possessed them, yet time and health and eyesight are perishable things. The very fondness for such studies will itself also sometimes wear off; and if in addition to these infirmities the writer is also liable to be chilled by the indifference of those whom his labours chiefly concern, no wonder that he retires from the task, even if he does not sink under it. Several have attempted large undertakings single-handed, and have sunk under them; and that perhaps may explain to us how it comes to pass that so many of our county histories are still incomplete. All this seems to warn us that the best way is, to try what union of industry, and union of accomplishments may do; to collect the scattered elements of strength, and to set several to work instead of one. That is what I believe to be the principle and object of the present Society."

On sitting down, a vote of thanks was moved to the Rev. gentleman by the Recorder of Devizes, which the Chairman pronounced carried by acclamation, and expressed his belief that the general Archæological History of the County, which Mr. Jackson hoped would result from the combined labours of the Society, would be accomplished at no very distant period. He then called on any lady or gentleman who wished to make any remark on Mr. Jackson's address to do so, and no one responding to the call, he requested the Rev. A. Fant to address the meeting, which he did, to the great gratification of the company-illustrating, in the course of his remarks, the manner in which country clergymen might assist in the work Mr. Jackson had suggested, by a short but vivid description of Boyton Church, built by one of the Giffards, whose tomb, with the effigy of the cross-legged knight and the mastiff, afforded a theme for a glowing account of his gallant deeds in the Holy Land, and the unfortunate fate of his nephew, who, being in rebellion with other Barons against his Sovereign, was taken and

beheaded at Gloucester. This was coupled with such a humorous account of the village tradition connected with the effigies, as to make his hearers look with anxiety for the more full and elaborate account of the structure in question, which the Rev. gentleman has promised. In conclusion, the manner was shown in which his own Archæological investigation afforded a clue to the origin of this tradition, which these villagers believed with an almost religious pertinacity; and the way in which such a Society as the Archaeological was calculated to sweep away these dim legends, and leave the mind more open for the reception of a higher and holier belief.

Tea was provided in an ante-room for such of the company as required this refreshment, and at ten o'clock thanks were given to the Chairman, and the company separated.


By the Rev. A. C. SMITH, Local Secretary.

If Wiltshire is preëminent among other counties for its Archæological Remains (as it undoubtedly is), presenting to the antiquary such numerous and highly interesting relics of by-gone ages, so I think it cannot be disputed that it offers to the natural historian no less an ample field for his researches, to whatever branch of Natural History he may devote his attention.

Now it is an undisputed fact in Zoology-as I may say, in Natural History generally—that those districts afford the greatest variety of species which comprise the greatest variety of scenery; for as some kinds of creatures prefer an open plain, others a sequestered valley, as some delight in the recesses of deep woods, others court the margin of streams, and all these are usually to be found in their own peculiar locality; the Zoologist in search of particular species will devote his attention to the country suited to the habits of the animal of which he is in search ; thus to confine myself to Ornithology (to which I am now anxious more particularly to direct your attention) and to take an example which must be familiar to everyone, who would think of beating a thick wood for snipe; or of wading through a marsh for partridges ? It is the same with every species of bird, as well as with all quadrupeds, reptiles, insects and other inferior tribes in the animal kingdom. The Almighty Creator has peopled with the living creatures which He has made, no less the wild dreary plain, than the sunny smiling valley, no less the bleak open down, than the sheltered sequestered nook. I myself have found specimens of animal life far above vegetation amongst the eternal snows of the Swiss Alps, 9000 feet

as remote, inhospa. creatures tds of 15,000 in

above the sea, and on the immense deserts of rock and snow, composing the Norwegian “fjelds.” Even more than this, that indefatigable naturalist, De Saussure, who first surmounted the avalanches and glaciers, which presented, till then, an impassable barrier to the ascent of Mont Blanc, discovered on the very top of that glorious mountain several minute insects, revelling in the cold and rarified air of that exalted spot, upwards of 15,000 feet above the sea. Now if there are living creatures to be found in every kind of country, in remote, inhospitable, and almost inaccessible rocks and snows, as well as in more genial and milder regions, and if each creature, of whatever class and however minute, is still most wonderfully formed and fitted for the particular locality assigned to it, we may assert again, without fear of contradiction, that the district which comprises the greatest variety of scenery, will also be found to afford the greatest variety of species. I have been induced to digress a little on this point, because I would clearly show that an opinion which I have heard frequently expressed with regard to this county is not tenable, viz., that whereas the greater part of it is composed of bleak open downs, therefore it is impossible there should be a good field of research for the naturalist. Now I contend that Wiltshire is especially rich in Ornithological productions; and for the same reason I doubt not in the productions of other branches of Zoology, because of that great diversity of scenery, which manifestly belongs to it. It is scarcely necessary for me standing in the very midst of the county, to call attention to this fact. We have, it is true, our broad expanding downs: (and what native of Wiltshire does not glory in them?) but we have at the same time our richly-timbered enclosed vales: if we have hill we have also dale; if we have open plains we have also large woods and thick forests. From this very variety, then, of scenery, we should expect to find a variety of species of birds, and such is certainly the result of our inquiries. Taking into consideration that this is an inland district, and therefore cannot be expected to abound in birds whose habitat is the sea and sea-shore, I maintain that Wiltshire yields to no other in the number and variety of the species of birds to be found there, and I now proceed to prove this more in detail.

Of the five orders into which birds are commonly divided, three compose that large class called the “Land Birds,” and two the “Water Birds.” Now the work which is at this present day almost universally accepted by Ornithologists as their manual and book of reference (I mean Yarrell's British Birds,) contains in the last edition, published and revised up to 1845, a list of 171 land birds. This list contains the names not only of every bird which inhabits this country throughout the year, or which being migratory is a periodical sojourner here during the summer or winter, or an occasional visitant, passing us on its way to northern or southern latitudes, but also of every bird which has ever been seen in this country. If an accidental straggler from Africa or America

« PreviousContinue »