Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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24                  Glimpses of Our Ancestors.
which Hickstead was then famous, were brought out, and the squire spent his morning in trying either the covers for pheasants or the stubbles for partridges; and by twelve o'clock he was able to return home with a well-filled bag."
For a contemporary picture of Sussex manners in the 18th century, though not of a very flattering character, we are indebted to Dr. Burton, the learned Greek Lecturer of Oxford, who, in 1751, was bold enough to "go down, through muddy, fertile, pastoral Sussex," to Shermanbury, to see his mother, who had married the Rector of that place, Dr. John Bear. Here he had an opportunity of seeing a little of the people who constituted the society of Sussex 137 years ago—the squires and yeomen of the county—and he draws the follow­ing not over-flattering sketch of them :—
" You should observe that the farmers of the better sort are considered here as squires. These men, however, boast of honourable lineage, and, like oaks among shrubs, look down upon the rural vulgar. You would be surprised at the uncouth dignity of these men, and their palpably ludicrous pride; nor will you be less surprised at the humility of their boon-companions (compotantium), and the triumphs of their domineering spirit among the plaudits of the pothouse or kitchen; the awkward prodigality and sordid luxury of their feasts; the inelegant roughness and dull hilarity of their conversation; their intercourse with servants and animals so assiduous, with clergymen or gentlemen so rare; being illiterate, they shun the lettered; being sots, the sober (sobrios bibaculi). Their whole attention is given to get their cattle and everything else fat, their own intellect not excepted. Is this enough about the squires ? Don't ask anything further about their women. They who understand Latin will feel that these remarks do not apply to them; they who do not, I need not dread their abuse."
This is certainly not very complimentary to the Sussex gentry of 1751.
To the ladies he is a little more polite, but it is at the
expense of their lords and masters:—
" You would probably admire the women if you saw them, as modest in countenance and fond of elegance in their dress, but, at the same time, fond of labour, and experienced in household matters ; both by nature and education better bred and more intellectual generally than the men."
In social position, as in worldly possessions, Thomas Marchant, of Little Park, Hurst, who follows next in order of the Sussex diarists, was a degree below the Stapleys, of Hickstead Place. They were squires, and one (Richard) was a Justice of the Peace. Thomas Marchant was a Yeoman. Yet they
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