Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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92                 Glimpses of Our Ancestors.
"What a fine opportunity for study!" some contemplative reader, or some member of a School Board, eager for juvenile development, may exclaim. We believe that the class is as innocent of literary or scientific tastes as Audrey was of poetry. It is in the society of men, and not of sheep or beeves, that these cultivated tastes flourish—in England at least. Now and then there is an exception; but they are few and far between. Scotland can boast of a poet and an astronomer who were shepherds, and Sussex has one instance, and only one, of a shepherd who turned aside from sheep to letters. This latter was John Dudeney, a native of Rotting-dean, and a descendant from a long line of shepherds, who, in a " plain unvarnished tale," has left us a chronicle of the life of a shepherd of the Southdowns which is, in prose, as truthful a picture as Shakspeare's is in verse.
John Dudeney was born at Rottingdean on the 21st April, 1782, his father being shepherd to John Hamshaw, Esq. His own shepherd-life extended from his 8th to his 23rd year, when he exchanged his flock of sheep for a flock of children—in fact, became a schoolmaster at Lewes, and so spent a long and useful life.
"When I was eight years old," he tell us, in a communication made by him to Mr. R. W. Blencowe at an advanced period of his life, "I began to follow the sheep during the summer months; in winter I some­times drove the plough. I was fond of reading and borrowed all the books I could. When I was about ten a gentleman (whom I afterwards found to be Mr. Dunvan, author of what is called Lee's History of Lewes) came to me on the hills and gave me a small History of England and Robinson Crusoe, and I read them both with much interest. When he first came he inquired of the boy who tended my father's flock, while I was gone to sheepshearing, for a wheatear's nest, which he had never seen. These birds usually build their nest in the chalk-pits and in the holes which the rabbits had made. I afterwards bought, when I came to Lewes fair, a small History of France and one of Rome, as I could get the money; indeed, when I came to the fairs, I brought all the money I could spare to buy books.
" My mother sometimes tended my father's flock while he went to sheepshearing. I have known other shepherds' wives do the same; but this custom, like many others, is discontinued. I have not seen a woman with a flock for several years.
" The masters allowed me the keeping of one sheep, the lamb and the wool of which brought me about 14s. or 15s. a year, which I saved till I
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