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Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 440 Volume 17, New Series, June 5, 1852



No. 440. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, JUNE 5, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._


The great flood which took place in the valley of Holmfirth in
February last, was in itself a deeply-interesting and awe-exciting
incident. I was curious to visit the scene, while the results of the
catastrophe were still fresh, both on account of the sympathy I felt
with the sufferers, and because of some physical problems which I
thought might be illustrated by the effects, so far as these were
still traceable. I therefore took an opportunity on the 22d of April,
to proceed from Manchester to Holmfirth, accompanied by two friends,
one of whom, though he had not visited the place since the calamity
happened, was well acquainted with the scene and with the country
generally, so as to be able to guide us in our walk. A railway
excursion to Huddersfield, and a second trip on a different line from
that town to the village of Holmfirth, introduced us to a region of
softly-rounded hills and winding valleys, precisely resembling those
of the Southern Highlands of Scotland, as might indeed be expected
from the identity of the formation (Silurian), but which had this
peculiar feature in addition, that every here and there was a little
cloth-making village, taking advantage of the abundant water-power
derived from the mountain-slopes. The swelling heights were brown and
bare, like those of Tweeddale; and there the blackcock may still, I
believe, be found. The slopes are purely pastoral, with small
farm-steadings scattered over them. But down in the bottom of the
dale, we see the heavy stone-and-lime mill starting up from the bare
landscape, with a sprawling village of mean cottages surrounding it,
giving token of an industrial life totally opposite to that which is
found beside the silver streams of the Tweed and its tributaries. When
we passed near any of these spots, we were sure to catch the unlovely
details, so frequently, though so unnecessarily attendant on
factory-life--the paltry house, the unpaved, unscavengered street, the
fry of dirty children. It was a beautiful tract of natural scenery in
the process of being degraded by contact with man and his works.

Arriving at Holmfirth at one o'clock, we found it to be a somewhat
better kind of village, chiefly composed of one or two irregular
streets running along the bottom of a narrow valley. Hitherto, in
passing up the lower part of the vale, we had looked in vain for any
traces of the inundation; but now we suddenly found ourselves in the
midst of ruin and devastation. Holmfirth is only two miles and a half
from the reservoir, and being at a contracted part of the valley, the
water came upon it in great depth and with great force. We found a
bridge deprived of its parapets, the boundary-walls of factories
broken down, and court-yards filled with débris and mud. Several large
houses had end or side walls taken away, or were shattered past
remedy. In a narrow street running parallel with the river, and in
some places open to it, many of the houses bore chalk-marks a little
way up the second storey, indicating the height to which the flood had
reached. When we looked across the valley, and mentally scanned the
space below that level, we obtained some idea of the immense stream of
water which had swept through, or rather over the village.

A rustic guide, obtained at the inn, went on with us through the town,
pointing out that in this factory precious machinery had been swept
away--in that house a mother and five children had been drowned in
their beds--here some wonderful escape had taken place--there had
befallen some piteous tragedy. Soon clearing the village, we came to a
factory which stood in the bottom of the valley, with some ruined
buildings beside it. This had been the property of a Mr Sandford, and
he lived close to his mill. Taken completely unprepared by the
inundation, he and his family had been carried off, along with nearly
every fragment of their house. His body was discovered a considerable
time after, at a distance of many miles down the valley. It may be
remarked, that about 100 people perished in the flood; and out of that
number, at the time of our visit, only one body remained unrecovered.

The catastrophe is too recent to require much detail. It took its
origin, as is well known, in a reservoir of water for the use of the
mills, formed by a dam across the valley. This had been constructed in
1838, and in an imperfect manner. The embankment, eighty feet in
height, sloped outwards and inwards, with facings of masonry, thus
obeying the proper rule as to form; but the _puddling_, or clay-casing
of the interior, was defective, and it is believed that a spring
existed underneath. Some years ago, the embankment began to sink, so
that its upper line became a curve, the deepest part of which was
eight or ten feet below the uppermost. This should have given some
alarm to the commissioners appointed to manage the reservoir; and the
danger was actually pointed out, and insisted upon so long ago as
1844. But the commission became insolvent, and went into Chancery; so
nothing was done. A sort of safety-valve is provided in such works,
exactly of the same nature as the waste-pipe of a common cistern. It
consists of a hollow tower of masonry rising within the embankment, in
connection with a sluice-passage, or _by-wash_, by which the water may
be let off. This tower, rising to within a few feet of the original
upper level of the embankment, was of course sure to receive and
discharge any water which might come to the height of its own lip,
thus insuring that the water should never quite fill the reservoir, or
charge it beyond its calculated strength. By the sluice provision,
again, the water could at any time be discharged, even before it
reached nearly so high a point. Unfortunately, this part of the work
was in an inefficient state, the embankment having itself sunk below
the level of the open-mouthed top of the tower, while the sluice below
was blocked up with rubbish. It was subsequently declared by the
manager, that this defect might have been remedied at any time by an
expenditure of L.12, 10s.! If the commission could not or would not
advance this small sum, one would have thought that the mill-owners
might have seen the propriety of clubbing for so cheap a purchase of
safety. They failed to do so, and the destruction of property to the
extent of half a million, the interruption of the employment of 7000
people, and the loss of 100 lives, has been the consequence. Surely
there never was a more striking illustration of the Old Richard
proverb: 'For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the
horse was lost,' &c.

The night between the 4th and 5th of February was one of calm
moonlight; but heavy rains had fallen for a fortnight before, and an
uncommon mass of water had been accumulated behind the Bilberry
embankment. The vague apprehensions of bypast years reviving at this
crisis, some neighbours had been on the outlook for a catastrophe.
They gathered at midnight round the spot, speculating on what would be
the consequence if that huge embankment should burst. There were
already three leaks in it, and the water was beginning to pour over
the upper edge. A member of the 'sluice-committee' was heard to say,
that before two o'clock there would be such a scene as no one had ever
seen the like of, and not a mill would be left in the valley. Two
persons were then _understood_ to be sent off, to give warning to the
people down the valley; but no good account of the proceedings of
these two messengers has ever been given. It appears as if the very
singularity of the dreaded event created a confidence in its not
taking place. By and by, a breach was made in the casing of the
embankment just below the top; the water then got in between the
casing further down, and the puddle or clay which invested the
internal mass, composed of mere rubbish. In half an hour, a great
extent of this case was heaved off by the water, and immediately after
a tremendous breach was made through the embankment, and an aqueous
avalanche poured through. Men then began to run down the valley, to
waken the sleepers, but the water ran faster. In a few minutes, it had
reached the village, two miles and a half distant, carrying with it
nearly everything which came directly in its way. It is said to have
taken nearly twenty minutes to pass that village--a fact which gives a
striking idea of the enormous mass of water concerned.

About a mile and a half above the village, we came to a modern church,
which had been set down in the bottom of the valley, close to the
river-side. Entering, we found some curious memorials of the operation
of water, in the upbreak of the whole system of flooring and seating,
which now lay in irregular distorted masses, mingled with all kinds of
rubbish. Bibles and prayer-books still lay about among the seats, as
if the people had never so far recovered from the hopeless feeling
originally impressed upon them, as to put out a hand for the
restoration of order. The position of this church and its fate give
occasion for a remark which, if duly remembered and acted upon, may
save many a good building from destruction. It should be known, that
the meadow close beside a river--what is called in Scotland the
_haugh_--is not a suitable place for any building or town, and this
simply because it is, strictly speaking, a part of the river-bed. It
is the winter or flood-channel of the stream, and has indeed been
formed by it during inundations. Unless, therefore, under favour of
strong embankments, no building there can be secure from occasional
inundation. Thus, for example, a large part of Westminster, and nearly
the whole borough of Southwark, are built where no human dwellings
should be. The fair city of Perth is a solecism in point of site, and
many a flooding it gets in consequence. When a higher site can be
obtained in the neighbourhood, out of reach of floods, it is pure
folly to build in a _haugh_--that is, the first plain beside a river.

We were coming within a mile of the Bilberry embankment, when we began
to observe a new class of phenomena. Hitherto, the channel of the
stream had not exhibited any unusual materials; nor had its banks been
much broken, except in a few places. We had been on the outlook to
observe if the flood, and the heavy matters with which it was charged,
had produced any abrasion of the subjacent rock-structure. No such
effects could be traced. We were now, however, getting within the
range of the scattered débris of the embankment, and quickly detected
the presence of masses of a kind of rubbish different from the rounded
pebbles usually found in the bed of a river. There were long
_traînées_, composed of mud and clay, including angular blocks of
stone, which were constantly increasing in size as we passed onwards.
These blocks were the materials of the embankment, which the water had
carried thus far. No ploughing up of the channel had taken place, but
simply much new matter had been deposited. In some places, these fresh
deposits had transgressed into the fields; and where trees were
involved, the bark on the side toward the upper part of the valley had
generally been rubbed off. Not much more than a quarter of a mile from
the reservoir, we found Mrs Birst's mill, or rather a memorial of its
former existence, in a tall furnace-chimney, for literally no more
survives. The deposit of rubbish was here eight or ten feet deep, and
a number of workmen were engaged in excavating from it fragments of
machinery and other articles. They had cleared out the ground-rooms of
the house, though little more than the base of the walls remained. The
scene was precisely like an excavation at Herculaneum. The outline of
the rooms was beginning to be traceable. A grate and a fireplace
appeared. We observed a child's shoe taken out and laid aside--an
affecting image of the household desolation which had taken place. Mrs
Birst, however, and her whole family, had been fortunate enough to
escape with life, although with the loss of all their property. This
mill, from its nearness to the reservoir, as well as the
contractedness of the valley at the spot, had experienced the violence
of the flood in a degree of intensity unknown elsewhere.

The space between Mrs Birst's mill and the reservoir is for a good way
comparatively open, and here some good land had been completely
destroyed; but for two or three hundred yards below the reservoir the
valley is very narrow, and there some extraordinary effects are
observable. The flood, at its first outburst here, has exercised great
force upon the sides of the valley, carrying off from the cliffs
several huge blocks, which it has transported a good way down. Three
of from five to seven tons' weight are spoken of as carried half a
mile, and one of probably twenty tons is seen about a quarter of a
mile below the place whence it evidently has been torn. These are
prodigies to the rustic population, little accustomed to think of the
dynamics of water, and totally ignorant of the deduction made in such
circumstances from the specific gravity of any heavy mass carried by
it. Geologists, who have looked into the great question of erratic
blocks, are less apt to be startled by such phenomena.

Some of these gentlemen will, I suspect, find the transport of blocks
at Holmfirth less remarkable than they could have desired. It is well
known that, while most of them ascribe the travelling of boulders to
the working of ice in former times, one or two persist in thinking
that water may have done it all. The present president of the
Geological Society has endeavoured to shew, by mathematical reasonings
chiefly, that the blocks of Shap Fell granite, scattered to the south
and east in Yorkshire, may have been carried there by a retreating
wave, on the mountain being suddenly raised out of the sea. Now here
is a moving flood, of greater force than any retreating wave could
well be; and yet we see that it does not carry similar blocks a
hundredth part of the way to which those masses of Shap Fell have been
transported, even although their course was all downwards moreover--a
different case from that of many of the Shap boulders, which are found
to have breasted considerable heights before resting where they now

At length, after a toilsome walk along the rough surface of the
débris, we reached the place whence this wonderful flood had burst. We
found on each side of the valley a huge lump of the embankment
remaining, while a vast gulf yawned between. This was somewhat
different from what we expected; for we had seen it stated in the
newspapers, that the whole was swept away. So far from this being the
case, fully half of the entire mass remains, including portions of
that central depression which has been spoken of. There is more
importance in remarking this fact than may at first sight appear. In
the investigation of the mysterious subject of the Parallel Roads of
Glenroy, one theory has been extensively embraced--that they were
produced by a lake, which has since burst its bounds and been
discharged. It has been asked: Where was the dam that retained this
lake? and should we not expect, if there was any such dam, that it
could not be wholly swept away? Would not fragments of it be found at
the sides of the valley--the breaking down of the centre being
sufficient to allow the waters to pass out? When we look at the masses
left on each side of the Bilberry embankment, we see the force and
pertinence of these queries, and must admit that the lake theory is so
far weakened. In the bottom of the breach, a tiny rill is now seen
making its exit--the same stream which cumulatively took so formidable
a shape a few months ago. For a mile up the valley, we see traces of
the ground having been submerged. Immediately within the embankment,
on the right side of the streamlet, is the empty tower or by-wash,
that dismal monument of culpable negligence. We gazed on it with a
strange feeling, thinking how easy it would have been to demolish two
or three yards of it, so as to allow an innocuous outlet to the
pent-up waters. When we had satisfied our curiosity, we commenced a
toilsome march across the hills to a valley, in which there has lately
been formed a series of embankments for the saving up of water for the
supply of the inhabitants of Manchester. About six in the evening, we
reached a public-house called the 'Solitary Shepherd,' where we had
tea and a rest; after which, a short walk in the dusk of the evening
brought us to a station of the Manchester and Sheffield Railway, by
which we were speedily replaced in Manchester, thus accomplishing our
very interesting excursion in about ten hours.

My final reflections on what we had seen were of a mixed order.
Viewing the inundation as a calamity which might have been avoided by
a simple and inexpensive precaution, one could not but feel that it
stood up as a sore charge against human wisdom. That so huge a danger
should have been treated so lightly; that men should have gone on
squabbling about who should pay a mere trifle of money, when such
large interests and so many lives were threatened by its
non-expenditure, certainly presents our mercantile _laissez-faire_
system in a most disagreeable light. But, then, view the other side.
When once the calamity had taken place, and the idea of the consequent
extensive suffering had got abroad amongst the public, thousands of
pounds came pouring in for the relief of that suffering. The large sum
of L.60,000 was collected for the unfortunates; and it is an
undoubted, though surprising fact, that the collectors had at last to
intimate that they required no more. It is thus that human nature
often appears unworthy and contemptible when contemplated with regard
to some isolated circumstance, as misanthropes, poets, and such like,
are apt to regard it. But take it in wider relations, take it in the
totality of its action, and the lineaments of its divine origin and
inherent dignity are sure to shine out.



I knew James Dutton, as I shall call him, at an early period of life,
when my present scanty locks of iron-gray were thick and dark, my now
pale and furrowed cheeks were fresh and ruddy, like his own. Time,
circumstance, and natural bent of mind, have done their work on both
of us; and if his course of life has been less equable than mine, it
has been chiefly so because the original impulse, the first start on
the great journey, upon which so much depends, was directed by wiser
heads in my case than in his. We were school-fellows for a
considerable time; and if I acquired--as I certainly did--a larger
stock of knowledge than he, it was by no means from any superior
capacity on my part, but that his mind was bent on other pursuits. He
was a born Nimrod, and his father encouraged this propensity from the
earliest moment that his darling and only son could sit a pony, or
handle a light fowling-piece. Dutton, senior, was one of a then large
class of persons, whom Cobbett used to call bull-frog farmers; men
who, finding themselves daily increasing in wealth by the operation
of circumstances they neither created nor could insure or
control--namely, a rapidly increasing manufacturing population, and
tremendous war-prices for their produce--acted as if the chance-blown
prosperity they enjoyed was the result of their own forethought,
skill, and energy, and therefore, humanly speaking, indestructible.
James Dutton was, consequently, denied nothing--not even the luxury of
neglecting his own education; and he availed himself of the lamentable
privilege to a great extent. It was, however, a remarkable feature in
the lad's character, that whatever he himself deemed essential should
be done, no amount of indulgence, no love of sport or dissipation,
could divert him from thoroughly accomplishing. Thus he saw clearly,
that even in the life--that of a sportsman-farmer--he had chalked out
for himself, it was indispensably necessary that a certain quantum of
educational power should be attained; and so he really acquired a
knowledge of reading, writing, and spelling, and then withdrew from
school to more congenial avocations.

I frequently met James Dutton in after-years; but some nine or ten
months had passed since I had last seen him, when I was directed by
the chief partner in the firm to which Flint and I subsequently
succeeded, to take coach for Romford, Essex, in order to ascertain
from a witness there what kind of evidence we might expect him to give
in a trial to come off in the then Hilary term, at Westminster Hall.
It was the first week in January: the weather was bitterly cold; and I
experienced an intense satisfaction when, after despatching the
business I had come upon, I found myself in the long dining-room of
the chief market-inn, where two blazing fires shed a ruddy, cheerful
light over the snow-white damask table-cloth, bright glasses,
decanters, and other preparatives for the farmers' market-dinner.
Prices had ruled high that day; wheat had reached L.30 a load; and
the numerous groups of hearty, stalwart yeomen present were in high
glee, crowing and exulting alike over their full pockets and the
news--of which the papers were just then full--of the burning of
Moscow, and the flight and ruin of Bonaparte's army. James Dutton was
in the room, but not, I observed, in his usual flow of animal spirits.
The crape round his hat might, I thought, account for that; and as he
did not see me, I accosted him with an inquiry after his health, and
the reason of his being in mourning. He received me very cordially,
and in an instant cast off the abstracted manner I had noticed. His
father, he informed me, was gone--had died about seven months
previously, and he was alone now at Ash Farm--why didn't I run down
there to see him sometimes, &c.? Our conversation was interrupted by a
summons to dinner, very cheerfully complied with; and we both--at
least I can answer for myself--did ample justice to a more than
usually capital dinner, even in those capital old market-dinner times.
We were very jolly afterwards, and amazingly triumphant over the
frost-bitten, snow-buried soldier-banditti that had so long lorded it
over continental Europe. Dutton did not partake of the general
hilarity. There was a sneer upon his lip during the whole time, which,
however, found no expression in words.

'How quiet you are, James Dutton!' cried a loud voice from out the
dense smoke-cloud that by this time completely enveloped us. On
looking towards the spot from whence the ringing tones came, a jolly,
round face--like the sun as seen through a London fog--gleamed redly
dull from out the thick and choking atmosphere.

'Everybody,' rejoined Dutton, 'hasn't had the luck to sell two hundred
quarters of wheat at to-day's price, as you have, Tom Southall.'

'That's true, my boy,' returned Master Southall, sending, in the
plenitude of his satisfaction, a jet of smoke towards us with
astonishing force. 'And, I say, Jem, I'll tell ee what I'll do; I'll
clap on ten guineas more upon what I offered for the brown mare.'

'Done! She's yours, Tom, then, for ninety guineas!'

'Gie's your hand upon it!' cried Tom Southall, jumping up from his
chair, and stretching a fist as big as a leg of mutton--well, say
lamb--over the table. 'And here--here,' he added, with an exultant
chuckle, as he extricated a swollen canvas-bag from his
pocket--'here's the dibs at once.'

This transaction excited a great deal of surprise at our part of the
table; and Dutton was rigorously cross-questioned as to his reason for
parting with his favourite hunting mare.

'The truth is, friends,' said Dutton at last, 'I mean to give up
farming, and'----

'Gie up farmin'!' broke in half-a-dozen voices. 'Lord!'

'Yes; I don't like it. I shall buy a commission in the army. There'll
be a chance against Boney, now; and it's a life I'm fit for.'

The farmers looked completely agape at this announcement; but making
nothing of it, after silently staring at Dutton and each other, with
their pipes in their hands and not in their mouths, till they had gone
out, stretched their heads simultaneously across the table towards the
candles, relit their pipes, and smoked on as before.

'Then, perhaps, Mr Dutton,' said a young man in a smartly-cut
velveteen coat with mother-of-pearl buttons, who had hastily left his
seat further down the table--'perhaps you will sell the double Manton,
and Fanny and Slut?'

'Yes; at a price.'

Prices were named; I forget now the exact sums, but enormous prices, I
thought, for the gun and the dogs, Fanny and Slut. The bargain was
eagerly concluded, and the money paid at once. Possibly the buyer had
a vague notion, that a portion of the vender's skill might come to him
with his purchases.

'You be in 'arnest, then, in this fool's business, James Dutton,'
observed a farmer gravely. 'I be sorry for thee; but as I s'pose the
lease of Ash Farm will be parted with; why---- John, waiter, tell
Master Hurst at the top of the table yonder, to come this way.'

Master Hurst, a well-to-do, highly respectable-looking, and rather
elderly man, came in obedience to the summons, and after a few words
in an under-tone with the friend that had sent for him, said: 'Is this
true, James Dutton?'

'It is true that the lease and stock of Ash Farm are to be sold--at a
price. You, I believe, are in want of such a concern for the young
couple, just married.'

'Well, I don't say I might not be a customer, if the price were

'Let us step into a private room, then,' said Dutton rising. 'This is
not a place for business of that kind. Sharp,' he added, _sotto voce_,
'come with us; I may want you.'

I had listened to all this with a kind of stupid wonderment, and I
now, mechanically as it were, got up and accompanied the party to
another room.

The matter was soon settled. Five hundred pounds for the lease--ten
years unexpired--of Ash Farm, about eleven hundred acres, and the
stock, implements; the ploughing, sowing, &c. already performed, to be
paid for at a valuation based on present prices. I drew out the
agreement in form, it was signed in duplicate, a large sum was paid
down as deposit, and Mr Hurst with his friend withdrew.

'Well,' I said, taking a glass of port from a bottle Dutton had just
ordered in--'here's fortune in your new career; but as I am a living
man, I can't understand what you can be thinking about.'

'You haven't read the newspapers?'

'O yes, I have! Victory! Glory! March to Paris! and all that sort of
thing. Very fine, I daresay; but rubbish, moonshine, I call it, if
purchased by the abandonment of the useful, comfortable, joyous life
of a prosperous yeoman.'

'Is that all you have seen in the papers?'

'Not much else. What, besides, have you found in them?'

'Wheat, at ten or eleven pounds a load--less perhaps--other produce in


'I see further, Sharp, than you bookmen do, in some matters. Boney's
done for; that to me is quite plain, and earlier than I thought
likely; although I, of course, as well as every other man with
a head instead of a turnip on his shoulders, knew such a
raw-head-and-bloody-bones as that must sooner or later come to the
dogs. And as I also know what agricultural prices were _before_ the
war, I can calculate without the aid of vulgar fractions, which, by
the by, I never reached, what they'll be when it's over, and the
thundering expenditure now going on is stopped. In two or three weeks,
people generally will get a dim notion of all this; and I sell,
therefore, whilst I can, at top prices.'

The shrewdness of the calculation struck me at once. 'You will take
another farm when one can be had on easier terms than now, I suppose?'

'Yes; if I can manage it. And I _will_ manage it. Between ourselves,
after all the old man's debts are paid, I shall only have about nine
or ten hundred pounds to the good, even by selling at the present
tremendous rates; so it was time, you see, I pulled up, and rubbed the
fog out of my eyes a bit. And, hark ye, Master Sharp!' he added, as we
rose and shook hands with each other--'I have now done _playing_ with
the world--it's a place of work and business; and I'll do my share of
it so effectually, that my children, if I have any, shall, if I do
not, reach the class of landed gentry; and this you'll find, for all
your sneering, will come about all the more easily that neither they
nor their father will be encumbered with much educational lumber.

I did not again see my old school-fellow till the change he had
predicted had thoroughly come to pass. Farms were everywhere to let,
and a general cry to parliament for aid rang through the land. Dutton
called at the office upon business, accompanied by a young woman of
remarkable personal comeliness, but, as a very few sentences betrayed,
little or no education in the conventional sense of the word. She was
the daughter of a farmer, whom--it was no fault of hers--a change of
times had not found in a better condition for weathering them. Anne
Mosely, in fact, was a thoroughly industrious, clever farm economist.
The instant Dutton had secured an eligible farm, at his own price and
conditions, he married her; and now, on the third day after the
wedding, he had brought me the draft of lease for examination.

'You are not afraid, then,' I remarked, 'of taking a farm in these bad

'Not I--at a price. We mean to _rough_ it, Mr Sharp,' he added gaily.
'And, let me tell you, that those who will stoop to do that--I mean,
take their coats off, tuck up their sleeves, and fling appearances to
the winds--may, and will, if they understand their business, and have
got their heads screwed on right, do better here than in any of the
uncleared countries they talk so much about. You know what I told you
down at Romford. Well, we'll manage that before our hair is gray,
depend upon it, bad as the times may be--won't we, Nance?'

'We'll try, Jem,' was the smiling response.

They left the draft for examination. It was found to be correctly
drawn. Two or three days afterwards, the deeds were executed, and
James Dutton was placed in possession. The farm, a capital one, was in

His hopes were fully realised as to money-making, at all events. He
and his wife rose early, sat up late, ate the bread of carefulness,
and altogether displayed such persevering energy, that only about six
or seven years had passed before the Duttons were accounted a rich and
prosperous family. They had one child only--a daughter. The mother,
Mrs Dutton, died when this child was about twelve years of age; and
Anne Dutton became more than ever the apple of her father's eye. The
business of the farm went steadily on in its accustomed track; each
succeeding year found James Dutton growing in wealth and importance;
and his daughter in sparkling, catching comeliness--although certainly
not in the refinement of manner which gives a quickening life and
grace to personal symmetry and beauty. James Dutton remained firm in
his theory of the worthlessness of education beyond what, in a narrow
acceptation of the term, was absolutely 'necessary;' and Anne Dutton,
although now heiress to very considerable wealth, knew only how to
read, write, spell, cast accounts, and superintend the home-business
of the farm. I saw a good deal of the Duttons about this time, my
brother-in-law, Elsworthy, and his wife having taken up their abode
within about half a mile of James Dutton's dwelling-house; and I
ventured once or twice to remonstrate with the prosperous farmer upon
the positive danger, with reference to his ambitious views, of not at
least so far cultivating the intellect and taste of so attractive a
maiden as his daughter, that sympathy on her part with the rude,
unlettered clowns, with whom she necessarily came so much in contact,
should be impossible. He laughed my hints to scorn. 'It is
idleness--idleness alone,' he said, 'that puts love-fancies into
girls' heads. Novel-reading, jingling at a pianoforte--merely other
names for idleness--these are the parents of such follies. Anne
Dutton, as mistress of this establishment, has her time fully and
usefully occupied; and when the time comes, not far distant now, to
establish her in marriage, she will wed into a family I wot of; and
the Romford prophecy of which you remind me will be realised, in great
part at least.'

He found, too late, his error. He hastily entered the office one
morning, and although it was only five or six weeks since I had last
seen him, the change in his then florid, prideful features was so
striking and painful, as to cause me to fairly leap upon my feet with

'Good Heavens, Dutton!' I exclaimed, 'what is the matter? What has

'Nothing has happened, Mr Sharp,' he replied, 'but what you predicted,
and which, had I not been the most conceited dolt in existence, I,
too, must have foreseen. You know that good-looking, idle, and, I
fear, irreclaimable young fellow, George Hamblin?'

'I have seen him once or twice. Has he not brought his father to the
verge of a workhouse by low dissipation and extravagance?'

'Yes. Well, he is an accepted suitor for Anne Dutton's hand. No wonder
that you start. She fancies herself hopelessly in love with
him----Nay, Sharp, hear me out. I have tried expostulation, threats,
entreaties, locking her up; but it's useless. I shall kill the silly
fool if I persist, and I have at length consented to the marriage; for
I cannot see her die.' I began remonstrating upon the folly of
yielding consent to so ruinous a marriage, on account of a few tears
and hysterics, but Dutton stopped me peremptorily.

'It is useless talking,' he said. 'The die is cast; I have given my
word. You would hardly recognise her, she is so altered. I did not
know before,' added the strong, stern man, with trembling voice and
glistening eyes, 'that she was so inextricably twined about my
heart--my life!' It is difficult to estimate the bitterness of such a
disappointment to a proud, aspiring man like Dutton. I pitied him
sincerely, mistaken, if not blameworthy, as he had been.

'I have only myself to blame,' he presently resumed. 'A girl of
cultivated taste and mind could not have bestowed a second thought on
George Hamblin. But let's to business. I wish the marriage-settlement,
and my will, to be so drawn, that every farthing received from me
during my life, and after my death, shall be hers, and hers only; and
so strictly and entirely secured, that she shall be without power to
yield control over the slightest portion of it, should she be so
minded.' I took down his instructions, and the necessary deeds were
drawn in accordance with them. When the day for signing arrived, the
bridegroom-elect demurred at first to the stringency of the provisions
of the marriage-contract; but as upon this point Mr Dutton was found
to be inflexible, the handsome, illiterate clown--he was little
better--gave up his scruples, the more readily as a life of assured
idleness lay before him, from the virtual control he was sure to have
over his wife's income. These were the thoughts which passed across
his mind, I was quite sure, as taking the pen awkwardly in his hand,
he affixed _his mark_ to the marriage-deed. I reddened with shame, and
the smothered groan which at the moment smote faintly on my ear, again
brokenly confessed the miserable folly of the father in not having
placed his beautiful child beyond all possibility of mental contact or
communion with such a person. The marriage was shortly afterwards
solemnised, but I did not wait to witness the ceremony.

The husband's promised good-behaviour did not long endure; ere two
months of wedded life were past, he had fallen again into his old
habits; and the wife, bitterly repentant of her folly, was fain to
confess, that nothing but dread of her father's vengeance saved her
from positive ill usage. It was altogether a wretched, unfortunate
affair; and the intelligence--sad in itself--which reached me about a
twelvemonth after the marriage, that the young mother had died in
childbirth of her first-born, a girl, appeared to me rather a matter
of rejoicing than of sorrow or regret. The shock to poor Dutton was, I
understood, overwhelming for a time, and fears were entertained for
his intellects. He recovered, however, and took charge of his
grandchild, the father very willingly resigning the onerous burden.

My brother-in-law left James Dutton's neighbourhood for a distant part
of the country about this period, and I saw nothing of the bereaved
father for about five years, save only at two business interviews. The
business upon which I had seen him, was the alteration of his will, by
which all he might die possessed of was bequeathed to his darling
Annie. His health, I was glad to find, was quite restored; and
although now fifty years of age, the bright light of his young days
sparkled once more in his keen glance. His youth was, he said, renewed
in little Annie. He could even bear to speak, though still with
remorseful emotion, of his own lost child. 'No fear, Sharp,' he said,
'that I make that terrible mistake again. Annie will fall in love,
please God, with no unlettered, soulless booby! Her mind shall be
elevated, beautiful, and pure, as her person--she is the image of her
mother--promises to be charming and attractive. You must come and see
her.' I promised to do so; and he went his way. At one of these
interviews--the first it must have been--I made a chance inquiry for
his son-in-law, Hamblin. As the name passed my lips, a look of hate
and rage flashed out of his burning eyes. I did not utter another
word, nor did he; and we separated in silence.

It was evening, and I was returning in a gig from a rather long
journey into the country, when I called, in redemption of my promise,
upon James Dutton. Annie was really, I found, an engaging, pretty,
blue-eyed, golden-haired child; and I was not so much surprised at her
grandfather's doting fondness--a fondness entirely reciprocated, it
seemed, by the little girl. It struck me, albeit, that it was a
perilous thing for a man of Dutton's vehement, fiery nature to stake
again, as he evidently had done, his all of life and happiness upon
one frail existence. An illustration of my thought or fear occurred
just after we had finished tea. A knock was heard at the outer-door,
and presently a man's voice, in quarrelling, drunken remonstrance with
the servant who opened it. The same deadly scowl I had seen sweep over
Dutton's countenance upon the mention of Hamblin's name, again gleamed
darkly there; and finding, after a moment or two, that the intruder
would not be denied, the master of the house gently removed Annie from
his knee, and strode out of the room.

'Follow grandpapa,' whispered Mrs Rivers, a highly respectable widow
of about forty years of age, whom Mr Dutton had engaged at a high
salary to superintend Annie's education. The child went out, and Mrs
Rivers, addressing me, said in a low voice: 'Her presence will prevent
violence; but it is a sad affair.' She then informed me that Hamblin,
to whom Mr Dutton allowed a hundred a year, having become aware of the
grandfather's extreme fondness for Annie, systematically worked that
knowledge for his own sordid ends, and preluded every fresh attack
upon Mr Dutton's purse by a threat to reclaim the child. 'It is not
the money,' remarked Mrs Rivers in conclusion, 'that Mr Dutton cares
so much for, but the thought that he holds Annie by the sufferance of
that wretched man, goads him at times almost to insanity.'

'Would not the fellow waive his claim for a settled increase of his

'No; that has been offered to the extent of three hundred a year; but
Hamblin refuses, partly from the pleasure of keeping such a man as Mr
Dutton in his power, partly because he knows that the last shilling
would be parted with rather than the child. It is a very unfortunate
business, and I often fear will terminate badly.' The loud but
indistinct wrangling without ceased after awhile, and I heard a key
turn stiffly in a lock.

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Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 440 Volume 17, New Series, June 5, 1852