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Cranford

Cranford
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Title: Cranford
Release Date: 2018-07-20
Type book: Text
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Cranford, by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell,Illustrated by Hugh Thomson

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Title: Cranford

Author: Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Release Date: July 20, 2018 [eBook #57539]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8

***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CRANFORD***

 

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ICRANFORD
IIlogo
Miss Matty

Miss Matty

III

CRANFORD

BY
MRS. GASKELL
WITH A PREFACE BY
ANNE THACKERAY RITCHIE
AND ILLUSTRATIONS
BY
HUGH THOMSON
London
MACMILLAN AND CO.
AND NEW YORK
1891
IVPrinted by R. & R. Clark, Edinburgh
v

Preface
I

My father has written of the memories connected withthe writing of books, and of the scenes and feelings whichare printed on the pages, quite other from those whichthey recount. And there are also the associations of thereaders as well as of the writers. One scene in Cranfordalways comes back to me, not only for its own mostpathetic value, but because I saw my father reading it. Ican still remember him coming through the doorway justas I had finished the chapter, when not without someagitation and excitement I put the close printed numberof Household Words into his hand. It was in the littledining-room of his house in Young Street, by gas light,just before dinner-time. The story was that of CaptainBrown and he sat down and read it then and there, andafterwards told me the writer’s name. But indeed I didnot think of it as a story at all, it seemed to me rathervithat I had witnessed some most touching and heroic deed,some sad disaster, and though I was a grown girl at thetime I had a foolish childish wish for my father’s sympathy,and a feeling that even yet he might avert thecatastrophe. Dear Captain Brown! in his shabby wig andfaded coat, loved and remembered far beyond the narrowboundaries of Cranford—the city of the Amazons, thehome of Miss Pole, and Miss Matty, and Miss Jenkyns,the place where economy was always ‘elegant,’ where‘though some might be poor we were all aristocratic.’Ever since the winter’s evening when I made my firstacquaintance with that delightful place it has seemed tome something of a visionary country home, which I havevisited at intervals all my life long (in spirit) for refreshmentand change of scene. I have been there in goodcompany. ‘Thank you for your letter,’ Charlotte Brontëwrites to Mrs. Gaskell in 1853. ‘It was as pleasant asa quiet chat, as welcome as spring showers, as reviving asa friend’s visit; in short, it was very like a page ofCranford.’ ... The quotation breaks off with little dots,but I am sure that each one of them represents a happymoment for Currer Bell, who had not many such in hersad life.

There is a most interesting notice of Mrs. Gaskell inthe Biographical Dictionary, in which Lord Houghton isquoted as writing of Cranford, as ‘the finest piece ofhumoristic description that has been added to Britishliterature since Charles Lamb.’ I had been thinking ofElia after re-reading the book, and I was pleased to findviimyself on the steps of such a critic as Lord Houghton.One could imagine Mrs. Sarah Battle and the poorrelation dwelling in Cranford, and if Charles Lambcould have liked anything that was not London, he toomight have fancied the place. Perhaps Miss Austen’sladies may also have visited there, but I feel less certaintyabout them, they belong to a different condition of things,to a more lively love-making set of people, both younger inage and older in generation than the Cranford ladies.Cranford is farther removed from the world, and yetmore attuned to its larger interests than Meryton orKellynch or Hartfield. Drumble, the great noisymanufacturing town, is its metropolis, not Bath withits succession of card parties and Assembly Rooms.At Cranford love is a memory rather than a presentemotion; the sentimental locks of hair have turned togray, the billet doux to yellow, like autumn leaves fallingfrom the Tree of Life, but there is more of real feeling inthese few signs of what was once, than in all the MissesBennett’s youthful romances put together. Only MissAusten’s very sweetest heroines (including her own irresistibledark-eyed self, in her big cap and folded kerchief)are worthy of the old place. I should give the Freedomof Cranford, were it mine to bestow, in the usual ‘handsomecasket,’ to Anne Elliott, to Fanny Price perhaps . . .but as I write some spirit of compunction disturbs the‘obiter dicta’ of a hasty moment. Where is one to drawthe line! Lady Bertram and the Honourable Mrs.Jamieson would surely have been kindred souls, delightfulviiicreatures both with their divergences. Who will everforget Lady Bertram’s plea for morality, or Mrs. Jamieson’slanguid replies to Miss Matty’s inquiries as to thepreparations expected in a gentleman’s dressing-room,those answers given in the wearied manner of the Scandinavianprophetess, ‘Leave me, leave me to repose.’

But it is all very well to decide who shall and whoshall not in turn be a dweller in this favoured spot!Cranford chooses its own inhabitants, and is everywhere,where people have individuality and kindliness, and whereoddities are tolerated, nay, greatly loved for the sake ofthe individuals.

I am sure Cranford existed in the quarter in Pariswhere my own early youth was passed. I can rememberit in Kensington also, though we did not quite go thelength of putting our cows into gray flannel dressing-gowns,as Miss Betsy Barker did. Perhaps Cranforddid not even stop at Kensington, but may have reachedfarther afield, taking Chiswick on its way. MissDebōrah, as she preferred to be called, is certainly firstcousin to Miss Pinkerton; can either of these ladies havebeen connected with the unrivalled Miss Seward herself?I do not quite know upon what terms Miss Seward andDr. Johnson happened to be, but I could imagine thegreat lexicographer driving them all before him andMiss Pinkerton’s turban, or Miss Jenkyns in her littlehelmet-like bonnet.

Miss Debōrah and Miss Pinkerton belong to an altogetherbygone type, but all the rest of the ladies in Cranfordixare as modern and as much alive as if they hadbeen born in the 60’s.

‘I believe the art of telling a story is born with somepeople,’ writes the author of Cranford; it was certainlyborn with Mrs. Gaskell. My sister and I were onceunder the same roof with her in the house of our friendsMr. and Mrs. George Smith, and the remembrance of hervoice comes back to me, harmoniously flowing on andon, with spirit and intention, and delightful emphasis, aswe all sat indoors one gusty morning listening to herghost stories. They were Scotch ghosts, historical ghosts,spirited ghosts, with faded uniforms and nice old powderedqueues. As I think it over I am suddenly struckby the immense superiority of the ghosts of my youth tothe present legion of unclean spirits which surround us,as we are told—wielding teacups, smashing accordionsand banjos, breaking furniture in bits. That morning atHampstead, which I recall, was of a different order ofthings, spiritual and unseen; mystery was there, romanticfeeling, some holy terror and emotion, all combined to keepus gratefully silent and delighted.

II

It is something for us Cockneys to know that Mrs.Gaskell belongs to London after all, if only as a baby.Although so much of her life was spent in the North, andKnutsford was the home of her childhood, and Manchesterxthat of her married life, yet she was born in Chelsea.She was born in 1810, in pretty old Lindsay Place, ofwhich the windows—ancient lights even then—still lookout upon the river at its turn, as it flows from CheyneRow, towards the sunset, past Fulham Palace, where theBishops dwell, and Hampton Court and its histories, outinto the country plains beyond.

Mrs. Gaskell was born in that propitious hour of thegreat men and women who came into the world in the beginningof this century: may the next hundred years bring toour descendants many more such birthdays! She belongedto a good stock on either side; her father came fromBerwick upon Tweed, that city built upon the rock; hewas Mr. William Stevenson, a Unitarian minister.There is a tradition that the Stevensons came originallyfrom Norway, and there are old family papers in whichthe name is spelled Stevensen. Mrs. Gaskell liked tothink of her Scandinavian forefathers, and when shewent away now and again for little jaunts and expeditions,such as she always enjoyed, she used to laugh and say thatthe blood of the Vikings her ancestors was rising in herveins. She was always tenderly attached to her father’smemory, and proud and fond of him, and he must havebeen indeed a most interesting and delightful character.A letter lately written to the Athenæum, evidently bysome old friend of the family, gives a quotation fromLongman’s Annual Obituary for 1830 and of the noticeof Mr. Stevenson’s death, beginning thus: ‘The literary andscientific world has sustained a great loss in the death ofxiMr. Stevenson, a man remarkable for the stores of knowledgewhich he possessed, and for the simplicity andmodesty by which his rare attainments were concealed.’Among other facts we read that in early life whilepreaching at Manchester Mr. Stevenson was also ‘ClassicalTutor in the Manchester Academy, so well known throughthe Aikens and Barbaulds. He was afterwards appointedsecretary to Lord Lauderdale, and finally Keeper of theRecords to the Treasury, both of which appointmentsbrought him up to London.’ He laboured with unremittingdiligence, contributing to the Edinburgh Review, theWestminster, and Dr. Brewster’s Encyclopedia. ‘He hadthe true spirit of a faithful historian, and, contrary to thepractice too prevalent in those days, dived into originalsources of information.’ Was not this the father, onemight imagine, for

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