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facts. Scandal with superstition, subsequently, as her handmaid contributed a joint composition; and a tale which, if true, palpably points at some other place, and at some other party, is required to be carefully treasured up as an historical truth in its original traditionary form in order that credulity may be comforted by not having her faith shaken by facts and evidence in opposition to fictions and hearsay. Your correspondent is of opinion that the discovery of that very curious document, Mother Barnes's narrative on which, together with her previous babblings no doubt, the tradition is obviously founded, strengthens the case against Darell, indeed, as he triumphantly affirms, "affords the most stricking and unexpected testimony to the substantial truth of the story.” Of the story-yes—but not as applied to Darell and Littlecote. A tradition must, of course have some foundation. In this case the foundation of a murder somewhere, is undoubtedly established, if we give credit to the old woman's dying declaration, but so far from her fixing the facts, as she recounts them, on Darell and at Littlecote, the very reverse is the case. She never makes the remotest allusion to him, her near neighbour, nor to Littlecote, the largest mansion in her own immediate neighbourhood. She arrived at the house, wherever it was, by day-break, and she staid there during the whole of that day, and we are called upon to suppose that, as to Donnington Park, she did not know her right hand from her left, and that as to the broad river which she crossed, with its "greate and longe bridge,” she mistook the Kennet at Hungerford, a place which she must have known as well as she knew her own village of Shefford and the little Lambourn stream which flows through it, for “the Thames.” But it is subsequently suggested that she may have been taken by Newbury, and so, passing Donnington, crossed the Kennet. It so happens that the Kennet is by no means broad at Newbury, and that Donnington would still have been on her left, and not, as she says it was, on her "righte hande.” But the various embellishments of this story, as we are now informed, the counting the steps, the bed curtain, the recognition of the "tall slender gentleman in black velvet,” &c., &c., all these are to be cast aside as the “ leather and prunella” of the case. “What legendary tale,”
exclaims our friend, “filtered through the traditions of centuries ever failed to acquire supplementary and varying embellishments ?” Very true, but then why filter away the fiction, hitherto received as a fact on Aubrey's authority, that Mrs. Barnes recognized the
gentleman in black velvet” to be Darell, and still stick stoutly to the assertion that Darell was the criminal because some person or persons whispered an insinuation which Mistress Barnes did not? Why again, may I ask, with this fondness for the application of the filter, and this contemptuous carting away of what our friend seems now to admit to be the rubbish of the edifice, why was this filtering process not thought of when the self-same hand penned, in its enlivening manner, the following passage in the Quarterly Review ?1
“ The long rambling galleries of the neighbouring Littlecote Hall” writes our County Chronicler, “still present a fit scene for the traditionary tale of Wild Darell's deed of darkness, which, in spite of the doubts raised by sceptical archæologists” (meaning, amongst others, more particularly, your humble servant) “will find believers to the end of time on the faith of Walter Scott's “Rokeby' note. Besides, the bed-curtain still shows the fatal patch ; the grate is to be seen in the bed-room; the stone stile still exists on which the hero of the tale broke his neck after it had by luck or favour escaped the gallows. These,” says our “Credulous Archæologist,” waxing warmer in his credulity) “are material proofs such as no lover of the marvellous will discredit-in spite of Lord Campbell.” Now this is well, and prettily, and picturesquely worked up to the fever heat of faith, but where was the “filter” then ? and where are the“ material proofs” now?! Why Lord Campbell is dragged into court as a sceptic I cannot distinctly see. As far as I read his biography of Popham he seems simply to take upon trust this Littlecote story as regards Darell, while he, not unnaturally rejects that portion of it which, on what he rightly calls “such unsatisfactory testimony," casts a calumny upon his brother Judge. Our faith then, according to the Reviewer, is first and foremost to hang on Sir Walter Scott, who without, I suspect, having himself any faith at all, but merely, as all his works show, “ loving the
1 Q. R. vol. ciii. p. 125.
marvellous," relied for his facts, about which he was by no means scrupulous, on the loose but amusing fragments of village chit-chat furnished to him by Lord Webb Seymour. Secondly we have to base our belief, on the “material proofs " so triumphantly paraded by the Reviewer, but only to be filtered away on a future and more fitting occasion by the “Credulous Archæologist.” Our friend complains that the discovery of this new evidence, viz., the old woman's narrative, does not remove my incredulity “but only shifts it to the locale and personnel.” Exactly so--that is the very point in question. I don't ask whether the old woman was doting or dreaming. I ask how her story, as she tells it, affects Darell and Littlecote? That some of the parties with whom Darell was at variance, if not at enmity, (and his very creditable conduct in the case of the Brind murderers shows that there were such parties), caught at the whisperings of the old woman-improved upon them by the “kind mendacity of hints ”-nay even founded a charge, and so got her tale taken down, thereby upsetting their own theory, I readily admit. That they utterly failed in proving their case is manifest. The remaining years, eleven in number, of Darell's life sufficiently establish this. Why, Sir, there is not evidence enough to induce twelve jurors, even with a bias, to hang a ticket-of-leave man hedged in at the dock by the most circumstantial suspicions as to character and conduct. But now for another straw which our drowning counsel catches at.
“If” (he goes on to say), “we believe that such a crime was actually committed, surely it is too late in the day now to look out for some other possible locality or perpetrator.” “Too late in the day!” Too late to try and get at the truth! Is our credulous friend so reduced in argument as to be driven to take up such a position as this ! prematurely and desperately prepared to “ die in the last ditch as the “great Deliverer" said. Is he entitled to plead that we cannot look into that question now—that it is a received fact—that people always believed it—and that it must be so—and to tell us that we are “ too late?!” Now, Sir, I protest against this statute of limitations. Is Tradition to hold her ground when History is compelled to give way? Was it “ too late ” to tear off the sentimental and saintly mask that had hitherto hidden the forbidding features of Mary of Scotland ? Was it “ too late” to look into the pathetic story of Amy Robsart, and to prove that Leicester had no hand in the ingenious staircase contrivance ? Is it, in fine, ever “ too late to mend” either an historical error or a gossiping tradition? Your correspondent next proceeds in the rather tortuous path of insinuation. Darell, he thinks, was not unlikely to have committed this child-murder because he was, as I styled him, “a scape-grace and a spendthrift.” I protest I do not see the connection between such venial transgressions and the operation of burning babies—especially when the operator was not in a position to find it necessary to resort to such strong measures. Again he thinks it probable, inasmuch as Darell was “charged with another and earlier murder." In common candour our friend should have added, “as an accomplice, but from which he was wholly exculpated.” Thirdly, that he carried on an intrigue with the wife of Sir Walter Hungerford who "may or may not have been the mother of the murdered infant,” forgetting that single gentlemen whom married ladies, having their husbands within hail, select as their associates in crime can have no motive for such atrocities. Lady Hungerford was divorced and had retired to Louvain in 1569 where she was living when Mother Barnes died nine years afterwards.
Next in order comes Mr. Brydges's letter respecting the trumpedup tale of the traducers, and which led, as it appears, to the conscience-stricken deposition of Mrs. Barnes, but which, we must ever bear in mind, she, in no way connects with Darell and Littlecote, but the reverse. How fared their forgery? We find that during the eleven succeeding years of Darell's life he continued to exercise his duties at Littlecote as a Magistrate, that he was much in favor, and in correspondence, and intimacy with persons high in rank and in position, and that Walsingham was thus writing to him in the year of his (Darell's) decease, “I do assure you the pity I have of your oppression moveth me to doe what I may, &c.” All these letters and papers are to be found at the Rolls Office, the Brind murder papers bundled up together with old Mother Barnes's narrative, and the whole set, no doubt, originally kept together in one chest. One thing, and only one, I give up.
1 mean the allusion to the “miscarriage.” I misconstrued the phrase. The real meaning was, as our friend intimates, the miscarriage, by death, of the mother, not that of the infant.
We now come to Aubrey's statement as regards Judge Popham. It is clear that our friend while, as he says, “not implicitly believing," is much disposed to believe the “probability of this part of the narrative;" and to enforce its truth he drags first Lord Chancellor Bromley into Court as the bribee in posse, and then, two years afterwards, Mr. Solicitor General Popham in the same capacity in esse. With this faith in Aubrey so perseveringly put forward, why does he overlook the fact (and there is no "filter through the traditions of centuries" in this case) that his witness distinctly tells us that Popham, as“ Judge,” tried the case, and“ gave sentence according to law,” while “some-how” (to use his expression) he got the prisoner off in his capacity of “Solicitor General ?”
“ Some matters"
our friend is of opinion, "lend some countenance to the statement so positively made by Aubrey,” and then he quotes Darell's offer in 1583 to sell his property, being obviously much involved in debt, to Lord Chancellor Bromley. The train of reasoning may thus be tracked—very like the wounded snakedragging “its slow length along.” Lady Hungerford who “may or may not be” the “gentlewoman in travayle” was divorced in 1569. Mistress Barnes, no doubt after many mysterious mutterings, died with her story on her lips in 1578. Darell, therefore, endeavoured, as our friend thinks, to bribe Lord Chancellor Bromley to help him out of the scrape of her supposed accusation by an offer of his lands in 1583. The Lord Chancellor declined the tempting bait, but in 1585 (the date is wrong it should be 1587) an indictment, which our all-believing friend thinks it “possible had some relation to the child murder," was preferred against Darell at the Marlborough Sessions, at which time Popham being “Solicitor General” (a slight error again-he was Attorney General) may “some-how" have got him off. So that we are required to believe that this most grave and frightful charge of child-burning remained suspended, first for five years,
VOL. VII.NO. XX.