AMONG all Mrs. Gaskell's works, "Granford," I take it, remains to 
this day the most general favourite. The popular voice, although, 
except in a proverbial way, it need not in literary any more than in 
other matters be regarded as infallible, in the present instance 
expresses an opinion which for half a century has prevailed in "two 
worlds." At home, the wide favour enjoyed by this brief series of 
sketches, strung together with easy grace like a wreath of flowers 
and ivy  -  leaves, has been shown by an almost continuous succession 
of editions.  Some of these have been provided with introductions 
possessing an interest of their own  -  above all, that prefaced by Mrs. 
Thackeray  -  Ritchie's most charming tribute to a writer whose genius 
is in so many respects sympathetic to that of the authoress of 
"Elizabeth." Another well  -  written introduction is Dr. Brooke 
Herford's.  His edition is illustrated, but not very happily; nor are 
Mr. T. H. Robinson's pictures uniformly successful, though he must 
be thanked for his portraits of Martha, staring at the Indian, and of 
Lady Glenmire, issuing forth, demurely happy, from church. 
Everybody knows Mr. Hugh Thomson's coloured illustrations, and 
the artistic designs of Mr. Brook.  The unavoidable compliment of 
dramatisation has been likewise paid to "Cranford," or at least to 
"Scenes from Cranford,"  -  with what measure of success I cannot 
venture to say; so far as I know, no other of Mrs. Gaskell's works 
has incurred the peril of this kind of translation.
        While, on this side of the Atlantic, French criticism, which has 
been rather cold to " Cranford," stands forth as something like an 
exception to the rule, American readers have consistently turned to 
this book among the works of its authoress with a wonderful 
unanimity of preference.  "Cranford," wrote Mr. Charles Eliot Norton 
from Newport, U.S.A., in 1858, "is known and loved from Maine to 
California." Nor is it to be denied that if "Cranford" can justly be 
regarded as having originated, or helped to originate, a new school 
of fiction, it is in America that this school has most notably 
flourished. I do not, however, think that Miss Wilkins is to be held a 
genuine follower of Mrs. Gaskell, whom, in the opinion of some 
critics, she excels on her own ground. The introspectiveness of this 
distinguished American writer, and the complete predominance of 
the sentimental element in her delicate miniatures of faded lives, 
were alike foreign to Mrs. Gaskell's larger range and greater 
freedom of spirit. Of American writers of fiction whose successes 
have been quite recently achieved, I am not prepared to speak.
        But  -  granting that the popularity of "Cranford" has not been 
equalled by that of any other of Mrs. Gaskell's works  -  could any sort 
of discussion be less profitable than that which attempts to analyse 
such plebiscites; to explain why one work of a much  -  read writer is 
more read than another; why, from this point of view, "Pickwick" 
has never been overtaken even by "David Copperfield," or why 
"Esmond" continues to distance both its predecessors and its 
successors from the same master - hand? In these and similar cases 
there are always a number of obvious reasons that go some way 
towards accounting for such results, while at the same time there 
remains, in the decisions of a' quite irresponsible tribunal, 
something that defies explanation.
        I would therefore, on the present occasion, rather not deviate 
into comparisons which could hardly fail to be illusory. For the 
pathos of "Cranford" springs from the same source as that of its 
more intense counterpart in Mrs. Gaskell's earliest novel; and the 
humour which was in this series first abundantly made manifest 
was to mellow into the perfection which that quality reached in her 
latest literary work. But it may nevertheless be worth while t 
advert to some of the features to which this unpretentious but 
exquisite prose idyl owes its peculiar charm, and which have 
secured to it the unique position modestly occupied by it in our 
But, before I make the attempt, I should like to conciliate the 
goodwill of my readers by citing one other critic who found 
"Cranford" more enjoyable than any other of Mrs. Gaskell's works - 
and that critic is Mrs. Gaskell herself. Sue] verdicts, when delivered 
by authors, however eminent, on their own productions, are not 
always convincing, but they can never be uninteresting; and Mrs. 
Gaskell, it will be seen has something to say here as to the 
unwritten as well as the written pages of her book. The following is 
an extract from a letter to Ruskin, who (as will be seen below) was 
one of the most ardent admirers of "Cranford": - 

"...and then again about 'Cranford!' lam so much pleased you like it. 
It is the only one of my own books that I can read again; but 
sometimes when I am ailing or ill, I take ' Cranford,' and, I was 
going to say, enjoy it (but that would not be pretty), laugh over it 
afresh. And it is true, too, for I have seen the cow that wore the 
grey - flannel jacket - and I know the cat that swallowed the lace that 
belonged to the lady that sent for the doctor that gave the . . . I am 
so glad your Mother likes it too. I will tell her a bit of ' Cranford' 
that I did not dare to put in, because I thought people would say it 
was ridiculous, and yet which really happened in Knutsford. Two 
good old ladies, friends of mine in my girlhood, had a niece who 
made a grand marriage, as grand marriages went in those days . . . 
The bride and bridegroom came to stay with the two Aunts, who 
bad bought a new dining - room carpet, as a sort of wedding 
welcome to the young people, but I am afraid it was rather lost 
upon them; for the first time they found it out was after dinner, the 
day after they came. All dinner - time they had noticed that the neat 
maid - servant had performed a sort of pas de basque, hopping and 
striding with more grace than security to the dishes she held. When 
she had left the room, one lady said to the other: "Sister I I think 
she'll do!" - "Yes," said the other; "she's managed very nicely." And 
then they began to explain that she was a fresh servant, and they 
had just laid down a new carpet with white spots or spaces over it, 
and they had been teaching this girl to vault or jump gracefully 
over these white places, lest her feet might dirty them! The 
beginning of' Cranford' was one paper in 'Household Words'; and I 
never meant to write more, so killed Captain Brown very much 
against my will.
        "See what you have drawn down upon yourself, by gratifying 
me so much! I'll stop now however."

        The chapters which were, in June, 1853, republished under 
the collective title of "Cranford" originally appeared in "Household 
Words," at intervals from December 13, 1851, to May 21, 1853, 
under separate headings, in part supplied by Dickens, whose 
assiduity, skill, and, one might add, gusto, in the performance of 
such editorial functions were unrivalled. In justice to him, it should 
be noted that he was far from being led away by Captain Brown's 
"rather ostentatious preference" of "Mr. Boz" to Dr. Johnson in the 
opening sketch - where the humour of Miss Jenkyns' canons of 
criticism is just a trifle overstrained.  On the contrary, as he wrote 
to Mrs. Gaskell, he took himself out of the text where he could, and 
substituted "Hood's Poems," no doubt for some work of his own, as 
the book which Captain Brown was reading when run over by the 
train. The text now stands neutrally: "some new book." (I wonder, 
by the way, how many readers of the opening description of the 
Cranford ladies identify "Miss Tyler" of cleanly memory as the 
"eccentric Aunt" who brought up Southey when a little boy, and 
who cramped his childhood with her restrictions, never allowing 
him "to do anything by which he might dirt himself.")  As the 
chapters succeeded one another, and were "joyfully" welcomed by 
the editor, the unity of design which became apparent in them was 
quite sufficient for the author's purpose; and, though the series as a 
whole is carried a little beyond the exigencies of sue plot as it 
possesses, it cannot be said to be unduly spun out. Indeed, 
delightful as is the absence of all appearance self - restraint in 
"Cranford," the book is not less enjoyable because it avoids all 
lengthiness and diffuseness.
        Still, this prose idyl, as I have had no hesitation calling it, 
stands as such, halfway between two specie. The one is the novel or 
short tale which has been provide with a specific background, in 
order to produce the twofold effect of harmony and contrast; the 
other is the descriptive sketch or essay, which plays round its 
subject, like the sunshine and shade that give variety to the scene 
an expression to the figures occupying it.  The literary derivation of 
"Cranford" is thus neither from "The Vicar C Wakefield," a tale 
whose thrilling interest is only enhanced, not produced, by its 
surroundings; nor from "The Essays of Elia," to which Lord Houghton 
compared it, but in which, the irresistible charm of each successive 
gem is but a radiation from the individuality of the essayist. This 
derivation is not traceable even to the good Miss Mitford; for the 
strength of "Our Village" (1824) lies in the description of rural 
scenery and of the living figures forming its staffage, rather than in 
characterisation proper. Descriptions of nature as such were not 
specially in Mrs. Gaskell's way, though she was alive to the 
romantic beauty of the Welsh mountains and valleys which she so 
lovingly describes in "Ruth," as well as to the picturesque charm of 
country life and its setting, shown forth in some unforgettable 
scenes in "Cousin Phillis," and passages of "A Dark Night's Work," 
and other pieces. But her "walks in the country" (to borrow Miss 
Mitford's phrase) had for their starting - point and goal the abodes of 
men and women. Miss Mitford, no doubt, helped to raise and to 
vindicate an interest in simple things and humble conditions, and 
thus to carry on in prose the more notable poetic work of Crabbe. 
But Mrs. Gaskell's observant and sympathetic humour, as it first 
fully displayed itself in "Cranford," had more in common with Miss 
Edgeworth's, and with that of a work which was an early and choice 
growth of a field destined in later days to yield much produce of a 
commoner kind - Galt's "Annals of the Parish" (1821). In Miss 
Austen, unsurpassed in the handling of the material within her 
reach, characterisation is all in all; she is clearly not moving in 
idyllic limits like Mrs. Gaskell in "Cranford," apart from the fact, so 
inimitably put by Mrs. Thackeray Ritchie, that "Miss Austen's ladies 
belong to a different condition of things, to a more lively, love - 
making set of people, both younger in age and older in generation 
than the Cranford ladies."
        Mrs. Gaskell, though she occasionally, and nowhere perhaps 
more distinctly than in "Cranford," showed herself susceptible of 
the powerful contemporary influence of Dickens, could in no phase 
of her literary life have been justly described as an imitator, 
conscious or unconscious, of any writer, past or present, great or 
small. It is thus extremely unlikely that she owed her first 
conception of "Cranford" to any of the literary predecessors whose 
names have been mentioned above.  At the same time, the process, 
essayed by her in this book, of transmuting actual experience and 
observation into widely recognisable types of human character and 
life, must have benefited from her known familiarity with a poet 
whose fame had not long passed its height when hers was dawning. 
She had been first drawn to Crabbe because of his insight into the 
life of the poor, and of the sympathy with them which his pictures 
had stimulated.  She could not have failed to recognise his power of 
projecting himself into the inner life of his neighbours, and of 
imagining a complete character by closely watching a series of 
detailed manifestations of its principal features. It may seem far - 
fetched to suggest a connexion between Crabbe's usually sombre 
and at times sardonic pictures of life and character, coloured in 
harmony or in contrast with the surrounding scenery, and Mrs. 
Gaskell sunny imaginings; but some such connexion seems to m 
beyond doubt. It may be added that in The Maid's Story, one of 
those "Tales of the Hall" in which Crabbe's powers exhibit 
themselves in their fullest maturity, some of the essential 
characteristics of Cranford life and society are to be found, as it 
were, in nuce: - 

"Poor grandmamma among the gentry dwelt
Of a small town, and all the honour felt;
Shrinking from all approaches to disgrace
That might be marked in so genteel a place;
Where every daily deed, as soon as done,
Ran through the town as fast as it could run: - 
At dinners what appear'd - at cards who lost or won.

"Our good appearance through the town was known,
Hunger and thirst were matters of our own;
And you would judge that she in scandal dealt
Who told on what we fed, or how we felt."

Another of the "Tales of the Hall," "The Sisters," seem almost to 
shadow forth Miss Matty, the most attractive of all the figures that 
move across the tranquil scene of Cranford, and her behaviour, true 
to herself, at the critical season of the breaking of the bank which 
involved the loss of her fortune. Too much, of course, must not be 
made of what may be a mere coincidence.  Possibly, as has beer 
surmised, the incident of the stoppage of payment by the Town and 
Country Bank at Drumble, in which Miss Deborah Jenkyns had made 
so unfortunate an investment, was suggested by the failure of the 
Royal Dantery Bank at Macclesfield, in 1823; or, more probably, 
Mrs. Gaskell had in her mind the failure, in 1842, of the Bank of 

far short of that sum - a crash which inflicted terrible suffering on 
the shareholders.
        Rarely have fact and fiction - Wahrheit und Dichtung - more 
deftly interwoven than in "Cranford," - the joint product of quick 
observation, tender remembrance, and fresh imaginative power. 
"The artist," wrote a critic of great ability, and a true lover of Mrs. 
Gaskell's works, in a note originally intended for use in the present 
edition, "is no photographer, nor was Mrs. Gaskell ever such. . .  -  
Cranford is Knutsford, and not Knutsford, just as Wahlheim in 'The 
Sorrows of Werther' is Garbenheim, and not Garbenheim, and 
Albert is Kestner, and not Kestner." And he cites from Weitbreeht's 
"Diesseits von Weimar" a passage which so admirably puts the 
difference between what is, and what is not, poetic truth, that it 
may be worth reproducing here. "The case is just the same with 
circumstances, relations of things, localities, events: nothing that 
might not at one time or another have happened just in the way 
described, or indeed may actually so have happened - and yet the 
whole story is perfectly new, and is a creation of the poet's. The 
way, too, of combining the different elements, of making the 
particular incident or characteristic derived from real life fit into 
the whole construction - this, again, is not a reproduction of what 
accidentally once was real, however closely it may seem to 
correspond to reality; but everything finds its proper place, its use 
and connexion, just as and where it suits the poet's new creation."  
The scenic background again, he continues, is used in the one 
artistically sound way; "nature, the surroundings of the landscape 
and of the human figures in it are not described and catalogued in 
detail for their own sake, with a geographically faithful 
reproduction of what accidentally was real, but it simply serves to 
express the state of mind and feeling of the human actors in the 
scene." perplexing as such a process may be to that pensive portion 
of the public which is never satisfied till in a work of fiction every 
place, character, incident, and situation has been identified, - on the 
principle - 

"That nothing is save that which once hath been," - 

and after identification made requires nothing further for the 
completion of its satisfaction - there can be no doubt that this, and 
no other, was the process followed by the authoress of "Cranford."
        As to the identity of Cranford and Knutsford, no clue was of 
course at any time required by those who knew anything of Mrs. 
Gaskell's life, of which so considerable a part had been spent at 
Knutsford. The book, to be sure, was actually written in Plymouth 
Grove, at Manchester; but the authoress seems at that date to have 
still been in the habit of paying a visit to the little Cheshire town n' 
far away.  Cranford, too, is in Cheshire - though, as Mrs. Ritchie says, 
we all of us remember a Cranford somewhere, and though an 
American young person told a friend of mine that it had taken her 
long to realise that Cranford was not a New England village. So great 
is the predominance the personal over the merely local 
characterisation, that Mrs. Gaskell told Mr. George Smith, "she often 
thought she would write a 'Cranford Abroad,' i.e. send Miss Pole 
abroad to write letters to Miss Matty." Nevertheless, the local 
colouring remains undeniable.
        The county, of course, impresses itself upon the - town; the 
rector would not let his daughter marry beneath he because they 
were related "somehow" to Sir Peter Arley - an excellent and highly - 
flavoured compound, in which( both the time - honoured 
Warburtons of Arley and the ennobled descendants of the historian 
Sir Peter Leycester are ingredients. But even in Mrs. Gaskell's early 
days, Knutsford could not quite overlook the fact that it was not 
more than twenty miles distant from Manchester - the "Drumble" of 
our story, a pseudonym which still survives in facetious use by the 
agreeable author of "Collections and Recollections."  Furthermore, 
Knutsford lies, or lay, on the great south road to London - a 
circumstance formerly of much moment to the prosperity of the 
town, and of the Royal George Inn in particular, where Miss Pole, 
when on her way to see "her Betty's second cousin, who is 
chambermaid there," accidentally met the conjuror in the passage 
to the historic Assembly Room. The painstaking townsfolk have 
identified a house and shop in Top Street, just where the passage 
comes out of the George Yard, as the domicile where Miss Matty 
sold tea; and Brook House near the chapel - once the abode of the 
celebrated spinster Lady Jane Stanley, to whom the footpaths in the 
street owe their pavements - as the residence of the Honourable Mrs. 
Jamieson. The "Shire Lane," mentioned in "Cranford," is taken to be 
Minshull Street; and the Ladies' Seminary, to which all the 
tradespeople in "Cranford" sent their daughters, is said to have 
been Heath House, presided over by a Mrs. Stokes. I can find 
nothing about the "large, rambling house" occupied by Mrs. Fitz - 
Adam, which had formerly belonged to an earl's daughter, married 
to a general of the days of the American War, who wrote comedies, - 
evidently General John Burgoyne, who had in early life eloped with 
Lady Charlotte Stanley, and who (as Horace Walpole prophesied) 
would perhaps have liked to be remembered as author of "The 
Heiress" after the surrender of Saratoga had been forgotten.  (He is 
mentioned again by name in a later passage of the book.) The 
"Benefit Society for the Poor," started by Deborah and her mother, 
is the Female Benefit Society, founded by Mrs. Holland of Church 
House in 1806, and said to be still in existence. The "Cranford" 
races, by which all the post - horses of the town were absorbed, are 
the Knutsford races, which continued, we learn, from 1729 to 1873. 
The humbler locality of the lime - pit, into which the cow fell, who 
came out burnt and was put into a flannel waistcoat, is on the 
Northwich Road, where there were a number of pits along that side 
of the Heath; and the truth of the story itself was attested, if not by 
the cow, at least by her owner. More to the purpose is the 
conjecture that "Woodley," the bachelor mansion of good Mr. 
Holbrook, with its old - fashioned garden among fields, is Sandle 
Bridge, the country house some two or three miles beyond the 
town, belonging to the Holland family, where the mother of Mrs. 
Gaskell had lived with her grandfather, who farmed his own land.
        Mrs. Gaskell's rare gift of blending personal memories with 
imaginary traits suggested by her own gentle fancy and kindly 
humour is best displayed in the pictures of "Cranford" by their 
central figures, Miss Deborah and Miss Matty Jenkyns. It cannot be 
doubted that these delightful creations reproduced, with a freedom 
of treatment not out of harmony with affectionate personal 
attachment, the figures of Mrs. Gaskell's cousins, Miss Mary and 
Miss Lucy, daughters of Mr. Peter Holland of Church House, 
Knuteford, surgeon - whose son was the eminent London physician, 
Sir Hen! Holland.  They were, both of them, admirable women; an 
the elder, Miss Mary, was a personage quite out of the common.  At 
one time she was much in London, where she became the friend of 
Hallam, Miss Edgeworth, and other distinguished people, and acted 
as a judicious guardian of her nephews and niece after their 
mother's death. On their father's second marriage she returned to 
Knutsford where she became a great power for good, by her active 
interest in charitable and other organisations, and by the generous 
self - sacrifice which enabled her in many instances to aid struggling 
poverty. To one of Miss Lucy Holland's accomplishments the 
frontispiece of the present edition bears witness.  So much it 
seemed necessary to say, in order to place on record Mrs. Gaskell's 
strong affection for those highminded and benevolent ladies, and to 
supplement the following inimitable letters, written from Knutsford 
more than twenty years after the publication of "Cranford," by Mrs. 
Mary Sibylla Holland - a gifted member of a gifted family - in a vein 
of humour almost equal to Mrs. Gaskell's own.
 Mrs. Holland writes from Knutsford, where she was staying with 
her aunts, Miss Mary and Lucy Holland, as follows: - 

To Mrs. Deacon.

"Church House, Knutsford,
"May, 1874.
        "My DEAR MARY,
        " -  -  - Time goes very slowly in this little old - world place. The 
aunts are so worn out and feeble, and the talk is of such far - gone 
matters, that my own affairs bear an air of unreality. Aunt Lucy 
forgets Michael's existence, but still laments that Aunt Mary would 
add two feet to the wall on which she used to perch Michael's 
father, in order that the people on the London coach might remark 
his fair long curls; and Aunt Mary still blames Lady Holland for 
dressing the boys in jackets, instead of the green velvet coats, with 
gold buttons and wide frilled collars, in which they looked so 
handsome. And Aunt Lucy says that there were many more birds' 
nests before the Reform Bill, which taught the farmers to trim the 
hedges so close, and wonders that I have never heard of Romper 
Low, the highwayman, who lived on the Heath here, and had an 
underground passage to Old Tabley, and who was so civil to the 
Miss Rumbolds when they met him and asked him to take care of 
them over the Heath to Church House, and how Dr. Holland met him 
afterwards and thanked him. It is so strange to bear all this, and 
the very primroses and lambs look as if they were only a 
remembrance too, and they are not real to the old aunts, they only 
remind them of the real lambs of fifty or sixty or seventy years 
        We breakfast here at 8 o'clock, eat a biscuit at 12, dine at 
four, and a tray at eight o'clock. Aunt Lucy said to me this morning,' 
Don't take ginger wine to - night, Sybil love, there's not much left 
and Mary will not like another bottle opened, as there is no 
but you.'
        "This evening we are to read old letters - Edgeworth's, 
Barhauld's, Aitken's, Darwin's, Wedgewood's, all that old set. Sir 
Henry Holland always figures as the fashionable young man in the 
vortex of London Society. Miss Edgeworth's letters are charming, 
and there are drawers full of them. . . "

"6th December [1874].
        "My DEAREST MARY,
        "It is long past midnight, and I have been buried alive in the 
feathers of the old four - poster with drab curtains for more than an 
hour. Two hot water - bottles were interred with me to make up for 
the want of fire in the outer world. Such a storm of wind roaring 
round this old house, and the rain slashing against the window that 
commands the ohurchyard where the grave - stones all lie flat and 
close together. I cannot sleep or read, and I have been lying staring 
into the dark till my head aches. Below this room is the surgery, to 
which a long stone passage leads. I can quite well hear the two old 
doctors moving about and rattling their medicine bottles, making 
up drugs for the people who have long since been in the 
churchyard. The two old aunts are just the same as when I saw 
them last, only more weak and weary of life. They are wheeled off 
to bed about nine o'clock, but then comes the moment of the 
companion, who brings out an acrostic of her own making. so vagne 
that there is not the slightest clue to the meaning, and I have to 
puzzle over it till ten. The evening begins at five, and is only 
interrupted by the tray of Oswego and bun - loaf. You cannot 
imagine to what a low ebb of mind and body it brings one. . . . 
However, I have written away my ghosts, and am so cold that the 
hot water - bottle lumps look not unfriendly under the quilt."

"22nd May [1876].
        " -  -  - Shall you be driving in our direction on Friday, or may I 
come over on Saturday. . . . Only I am half dead, and feel as if none 
of us would survive the thunderstorm which is crashing over the 
town at this moment. Aunt Lucy neither hears it nor sees. She is 
recovering from a fit of choking into which I sent her, me, miseram! 
by a mild little joke at tea, and, as has often been remarked the 
disturbance of the inner man is more terrible than all the 
convulsion of nature.
        "I thought of you all on Sunday morning. The old ladies, 
though dissenters, and even on bad terms with the parson, keep a 
rigid hold on the house - pew, which is situated in the N.E. aisle of 
the church, under the great ten - tiered gallery, and in a line with 
the Three - decker. It was re - lined with baize in 1801. Date in brass 
nails on the door. The corners are wide and the hassocks large, and 
I am ashamed to confess that the seclusion was not uncomfortable. 
Not a soul could see save the parson himself.

        "P.S. - It is so difficult to get paper here, for one cannot stir 
without waking an aunt, end then one has to talk or read. I was ten 
minutes trying to hook this piece of paper noiselessly, on to my 

        Out of these materials, and materials such as these, the 
authoress of "Cranford" wove a fabric of light texture indeed, but 
united by a more perfect harmony than could have been secured 
by the most skilfully contrived plot. The harmony of "Cranford" is 
that of the pictures which nature unconsciously invents and 
"arranges" for us - a summermorning in an old garden, an evening on 
a lake, and so forth. Not only is nothing out of place, but everything 
is as it must have been - thus and not otherwise: such is the 
consummate effect of an artistic creation in which a nice aesthetical 
perception is sustained by a sure ethical sense, in which good taste 
and good feeling are conjoined; and where, whether the grave or 
the gay moments of human life are reproduced, love is lord. 
"Cranford," as I have hinted, can hardly be said to own a plot; 
though the story of Peter, his departure, his disappearance 
(suggested by that of Mrs. Gaskell's brother Charles), and his return, 
serves as a general thread, and is skilfully connected with the 
downfall of his sister Matty's worldly prosperity. Room is easily 
found for the bye - plots of Mr. Holbrook's untold love, and of Lady 
Glenmire's condescension in marrying an honest man and making 
herself happy in defiance of the principles and feelings of Cranford. 
On the other hand, the picture - book is full of figures which have 
contrived to secure for themselves a place very near that of the 
chosen favourites of English fiction - Captain Brown, carrying the 
poor old woman's baked mutton and potatoes safe home on a very 
slippery Sunday, but unequal, good - natured as he is, even to one 
glass of Miss Jenkyns' mixture in the way of wine; Mr. Holbrook 
striding along his fields, and soothed by his pipe into a silence 
broken only by quotations; Signor Brunoni, the conjurer, and his 
faithful wife (truly Dickensian characters these); and, primarily and 
through the whole book, the "Amazonian sisterhood" in possession 
of the little place - the Honourable Mrs. Jamieson, its acknowledged 
head; Mrs. Forrester, her prophet; Miss Pole, the spirit who enquires 
and denies, and the two sisters themselves. Into the privacy of the 
pair we are admitted by the demure chronicler, in whose observant 
eye we never seem to escape the terrible: Miss Deborah, as she 
preferred to be accentuated (because her father had once said that 
the Hebrew name ought to be so pronounced); and Miss Matty, the 
true heroine of the book, one of the sweetest creations of English 
domestic fiction - a faded violet round which still hovers the scent of 
spring. It is not surprising that the wealth of characterdrawing, and 
of tender and humorous fancies, crowded into a single chapter like 
that entitled "Old Letters" should have taken the reading world by 
surprise, and should have been joyously hailed by the great English 
humorist who stood godfather to this new arrival in a domain 
where his own mastery was acknowledged.  John Forster, whose 
sound critical judgment so often confirmed, if it occasionally 
corrected, the literary instincts of Dickens, was from the first 
charmed with "Cranford."  "I can hardly tell you," h wrote to Mrs. 
Gaskell on the appearance of the earliest portion," with how much 
pleasure I could quarrel with you for killing the poor Captain; but 
that the scene of the daughter's death" - surely the most beautiful 
scene in the book - "could not have been written without it. "And 
later: "Miss Jenkyns is gone - the more's the pity; but Miss Matty is 
left.. "And before the denouement:" I hope,if Peter is to die in 
India, he'll leave Matty really well off, after all her troubles."And it 
is no less easy to understand why the fascination exercised by the 
first leaves of the book remained when they and their successors 
were gathered lightly together into an inimitable gift of genius in 
its holiday mood, at whose conception the sun had shone or a star 
had laughed, and which had quite unconsciously become a classic of 
our literature. As such it was welcomed by two great writers, 
whose words of pleasure may fitly close this note.  Charlotte 
Bronte', who had accompanied the progress of the book with 
unfailing delight, on receiving it from the authoress in its completed 
form, read it over twice, "once to myself, and once aloud to my 
Father. I find it pleasurable reading: graphic, pithy, penetrating, 
shrewd, yet kind and indulgent. "And here, by way of parallel, is 
part of the letter from Ruskin, dated February 21, 1865, the reply 
to which has been already cited.

        I have just been reading 'Cranford' out to my Mother. She has 
read it about 5 times: but, the first time I tried, I flew into a 
passion at Captain Brown's being killed and wouldn't go any 
further - but this time my Mother coaxed me past it - and then I 
enjoyed it mightily. I do not know when I have read a more 
finished little piece of study of human nature (a very great and 
good thing when it is not spoiled). Nor was I ever more sorry to 
come to a book's end. I can't think why you left it off. You might 
have killed Miss Matty, as you re fond of killing nice people, and 
then gone on with Jessie's children, or made yourself an old lady - in 
time - it would have been lovely. I can't write more to - day."

        Of the other productions included in this volume, the little 
sketch of "Christmas Storms and Sunshine" - half humorous and half 
pathetic, and perhaps altogether more in Dickens' manner, and in 
the Christmas variety of it, than anything else from Mrs. Gaskell's 
hand - has already been mentioned in the Introduction to our 
preceding volume. The conjecture has there also been hazarded that 
"Lizzie Leigh" was very possibly written, in part at least, before 
"Mary Barton," of which one of the most pathetic episodes - the 
history of the outcast Ellen - is to be found in a measure either 
anticipated or reproduced in the shorter tale. To "Lizzie Leigh" 
Dickens accorded the signal honour of assigning a place to the first 
portion of it in the first number of "House bold Words" (March 80, 
1850). He had written to Mrs. Gaskell, announcing the scheme of his 
new venture, which was in truth to exercise a distinct influence 
upon English popular prose, and asked her collaboration in the most 
flattering terms. "Lizzie Leigh" was first reprinted in book form, 
together with a number of other tales by Mrs. Gaskell, in 1855.
        The publicity, at once so conspicuous and so honourable, 
accorded to "Lizzie Leigh" by the most popular master of English 
fiction not only showed the insight which was characteristic of him 
as an editor, but illustrated the continuance of a widespread public 
interest in the life of the manufacturing districts in the north, which 
"Mary Barton" had so largely helped to diffuse.  The spirit of "Mary 
Barton" is in this short tale, which moved Dr. Arnold's widow to a 
letter of sympathetic praise, ending with the solemn wish: "May 
the sinful and the sorrowful and the oppressed be taught and 
cheered and helped by you as they severally need; and may the 
hard be softened, and the careless roused."  "Lizzie Leigh" is a 
genuine Lancashire tale; its scene is laid at Rochdale, a 
representative locality to this day of Lancashire as it was and is.  It 
also remains, or till recently remained, a home of the undiluted 
Lancashire dialect, which here or hereabouts stereotyped itself in 
certain much cherished literary products, and of which 
reminiscences are noticeable in some of the words and phrases 
incidentally introduced into the text of Mrs. Gaskell's story.  
Southerners should observe how in this story Manchester 
completely holds the place of a capital - a London of the north - to the 
folk of the districts around it.        Though Susan Palmer, the 
generous girl to whom Will Leigh, the country - looking, broad - 
shouldered immigrant from the country farm, loses his heart, 
happens to be a school - teacher, she is a genuine type of a 
Manchester factory girl - to her rural lover the very model of all that 
is town - bred, and "like a lady, with her smooth, colourless 
complexion, her bright, dark hair, and her spotless dress."

        "The Well of Pen - Morfa," which was first printed in 
"Household Words," on November 16 and 23, 1850, and reprinted 
with "Lizzie Leigh" in 1855, must have been a result of impressions 
made on its authoress by one or more of the visits paid by her to 
Wales in the earlier course of her married life - impressions that 
came to be tinged with an inevitable hue of sadness. It cannot, I 
think, be reckoned among her successful productions; for the tone 
of sentiment which dominates it is unusual with her, and indeed 
verges upon sentimentality of an almost morbid kind.

        "The Moorland Cottage," on the other hand, which appeared as 
a Christmas book in 1850, with illustrations by Birket Foster, who 
at that time enjoyed much popularity, though it may exhibit some 
traces of the comparative haste with which it was written (and Mrs. 
Gaskell thoroughly disliked writing to order), certainly deserves not 
to be overlooked in the progressive series of her works. Miss Bronte 
wrote of it that "it opens like a morning daisy, and finishes like a 
herb - a balsamic herb with healing in its leaves." Not only does "The 
Moorland Cottage" show very distinct traces of that quieter but 
more subtle species of humour of which the writer was gradually to 
become a perfect mistress; but the figure of little Maggie, 
descending from her retreat under the knotted thorn - tree on her 
particular grey rock, to do her duty simply, nobly, heroically, is an 
inspiration direct from Nature's source, and, especially as 
contrasted with the charming but volatile Erminia, is a sort of first 
sketch of Mrs. Gaskell's latest and most finished pictures of 
womanhood in blossom and in bud. The good old servant Nancy is 
likewise a type which the author was afterwards to take a 
particular pleasure in elaborating, and which was to reappear in " 
Ruth." In Maggie's ne'er - do - weel brother we may also recognise a 
rather more melodramatic prototype of Dick Bradshaw in the same 
novel. If the rather melodramatic turns in "The Moorland Cottage" 
betray the circumstance that it was pre - eminently designed for 
family reading, the story as a whole has not suffered greatly from 
the obligations which it had to meet.
        "The Heart of John Middleton," first printed in "Household 
Words," December 28, 1850, and reprinted with "Lizzie Leigh " in 
1855, is a story of a different kind; and, while very beautiful in 
conception, has a rugged force and an intensity due to the strength 
of Mrs. Gaskell's abiding conviction that the forgiveness of injuries 
is the most sacred of Christian duties. The direct power of its simple 
pathos comes straight home; and no tale of real or imagined life 
ever better illustrated the experience that in a great heart there 
may be room for a very small diversity of emotions. The scene is 
laid in the classic vicinity of Pendle Forest (Pendle Hill); and the 
clue furnished by the mention of "a row of houses where one Mr. 
Peel came to live for the sake of the water - power" (Osbaldtwistle in 
the lower division of the hundred of Blackburn, where Robert Peel 
the elder set up his calicoprinting manufactory, and where, at 
Peelfold, Robert Peel the younger was born), identifies "Sawley," 
which "sprang up into a village in the time of the monks, who had 
an abbey there," with Whalley, renowned for its ancient Cistercian 
foundation. By the same token the "Bribble" is of course the Ribble. 
The fine scene, which here has so disastrous an ending, in which 
Nelly makes herself a shield for John, perhaps contains the germ of 
the well - know situation, elaborated with masterly skill, in "North 
and South."

        Another "Household Words "contribution, printed there on 
June 7, 1851, as a paper which the editor pronounced to be "exactly 
suited to us," and reprinted with "Lizzie Leigh," is 'the amusing 
"Disappearances." It shows that Mrs. Gaskell's love of the 
mysterious was, as is the case with some other votaries of the 
insoluble, quite compatible with a cheerful frame of mind - if so 
much may be inferred from the humour which marks the style of 
this singularly bright composition. Some capital stories are here 
strung together in illustration of the text that mysterious 
disappearances have ceased to be mysterious, - since we possess a 
detective police putting "Caleb Williams" out of date - though its 
machinery may fall short of perfection in the scientific eyes of a 
Sherlock Holmes.
        On the first of these anecdotes some strictures are passed in 
one of the most amusing volumes of modern English biography.  I 
say "volumes," for the second volume of Mr. Samuel Butler's "Life 
and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler," Headmaster of Shrewsbury 
School, and afterwards Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, is too 
purely ecclesiastical in theme to be fitly described by such an 
epithet. But, in vol. i., pp.98 - 9 of this delightful book, Bishop 
Butler's biographer, after telling the tale of the disappearance, in 
circumstances similar to those given in Mrs. Gaskell's version of the 
incident, of an old bedridden tailor named Owen Parfitt, who lived 
at Western Shepton in the parish of Shepton Mallet, states that Dr. 
Butler took a special interest in the story. He accordingly tried in 
every way by investigation to clear up its mystery, but without 
success. Mr. S. Butler then notes that the late Rev. William Maskell, 
whose father was in his day the leading solicitor at Shepton Mallet, 
in 1857, published a short account of the story, which may be 
assumed to have been quite plain, and was certainly unvarnished.  
For Mr. Maskell considered the "Household Words" narrative to be 
"a curious example of a narrative, distorted and untrue, but 
apparently resting on the most trustworthy proof."  "Almost every 
particular in it," according to the lawyer's son, "rests on imagination. 
Whether the old lady, 'the cousin of the Sneyds,' etc., was a myth 
also, no one can tell; but the scene being laid in Sbropshire leads us 
to conclude that Dr. Butler was the original teller of the story right 
enough, perhaps at first from himself, but in after years altered, not 
only as to the circumstances, but as to the place and country." We 
may cherish a hope that Mrs. Gaskell, who thoroughly understood 
the art of telling a story, never revealed to any on "born or bred in 
the law what in her" version  were the, proportions of inevitable 
accretion and legitimate improvement.
        Of the remaining anecdotes of "Disappearances," the, last in 
order of succession refers to Gerrard or Garrat Hall in Ancoats, 
distant about a mile from Mrs. Gaskell's own house in Plymouth 
Grove - an ancient hall formerly in the possession of a member of 
the Trafford family, for whom the boys of the Manchester Grammar 
School were bound to offer daily prayer as one of their benefactors. 
But the story of his successor to the property, unlike that of the 
Shropshire tailor, I should be slow to seek to identify, although he 
is conjectured to have been a shoot of "a branch of the tree of the 
Lord of the Manor of Manchester." But even greater than he, if my 
remembrance of a recent case do not deceive me, have been 
suspected, on evidence which would probably not have satisfied 
the Maskells, father or son, of "disappearing," and of reappearing, 
like the middle - aged gentleman of Mrs. Gaskell's anecdote, in 
circumstances which required a good deal of hushing up.

        "The Old Nurse's Story," which formed part of the 1852 
Christmas number of "Household Words," on the sound principle 
that, when tales are told in front of the yule log, a ghost story or 
two should not be wanting in the cycle - was reprinted with "Lizzie 
Luigh" in  1855. It is a most satisfying ghost story, from which none 
of the approved ingredients is left out, while nothing superfluous is 
allowed to lessen its effect. But this effect is in part at least due to 
the art which, with a few simple strokes, could produce a picture at 
once so strange and so true as that of the moonlight night on the 
snow - covered fells, where the child was found asleep under the 
holly - trees. It has been mentioned before, that, to Mrs. Gaskell, 
Dickens was, as to his other contributors distinguished or 
undistinguished, alike suggestive and considerate; and it is 
interesting to note that when she declined to adopt the ending 
proposed by him for "The Old Nurse's Story," he readily acquiesced.

        "Morton Hall," published in "Household Words " in two 
successive numbers, November 19 and 26, 1853, was also reprinted 
with "Lizzie Leigh" two years afterwards.  It is a pretty and pathetic 
tale of the fortunes of an old Lancashire hall, and of the family with 
whom it sank away, so to speak,' from its own identity. The earlier, 
and principal, part of the story is told with an art to which in a 
letter to Mrs. Gaskell, John Forster rendered not more than justice

        "Anybody but you would have made the tragedy of it 
unbearable - but you have the art of softening this, of relieving it by 
little homely touches, and putting such a tender sweetness' into it, 
of setting round and neighbonring it with so much quiet good - 
hearted humour."

But the last portion of the story, a somewhat hard specimen of the 
"Cranford" manner, is hardly equal to the rest. The late Mr. 
Boughton ought to have painted Mistress Alice on the sunny hall 
steps o~ in the chill house shadow, of the sweet Phillis "whirling 
round, and making cheeses with her rich silk petticoat" - or the faint 
shadow of Phillis in her days of suffering and self - sacrifice.
        Morton Hall is placed by the narrator of its vicissitudes "about 
five miles from the centre of Drumble." Thus it may have been 
suggested by Ouse End, or by Old Garratt Hall, to which reference 
was made above; but there is nothing beyond the above localisation 
to indicate that it was drawn from either. It seems certainly to have 
nothing to do with what is commonly but erroneously called. 
"Moreton Old Hall" in the parish of Astbury, in the hundred of 
Macclesfield. Neither the large modern stonehouse in Great 
Moreton - one of the two townships and manors in the parish - nor 
the old "black - and - white" house in Little Moreton adjoining, suit its 
description or its supposed history.

        "Traits and Stories of Huguenots" (published in "Household 
Words," December 10, 1853,) and "My French Master" (published in 
the same journal on December 17 and 24 following, and reprinted, 
like its predecessor, in 1855) easily introduce themselves. Both, as I 
have said before, attest Mrs. Gaskell's cordial interest in French life 
and character, and they likewise show that this interest was partly 
based on historical studies. For both these productions take a fairly 
wide range of view, though in treating of the Huguenot refugees 
Mrs. Gaskell could hardly be expected to make allowance in Henry 
IV.'s "unworthy son," Louis XIII., or in his great minister, Richelieu, 
for motives which were by no means entirely those of religious 
hatred. As for the ingratitude shown by a later Bourbon king to the 
refugees of a later date who returned with him, but were not, like 
him, privileged to "enjoy their own again," worse instances might be 
quoted than that of M. de Chalabre. His figure in Mrs. Gaskell's 
pretty sketch has a charm resembling that with which a most 
accomplished actor - the late Mr. Alfred Wigan - invested the 
character of the French usher, fated in the days of his exile on the 
Adelphi boards to construe "Telemaque" to that most winsome of 
English schoolboys - the late Mrs. Keeley.

        The last piece contained in the present volume, "The Squire's 
Story," was contributed to another "Household Words" Christmas 
Number (1853), and reprinted, like its predecessors, with "Lizzie 
Leigh."  It is an admirably told page of the earlier history of 
Knutsford (here disguised afresh under the name of Barford) where 
on the "heath" the house - the ivy - grown Cann office, where, of old, 
weights and scales were tested - is still shown that harboured for 
some years this celebrated gentleman of the road.  His story is told 
at length in Mr. Henry Green's "Knutsford: its Traditions and 
History" (2nd edn., 1887), where, besides the florid version of the 
story in the "Autobiographic Sketches" of De Quincey, are given 
some "Extracts respecting Edward Higgins," from Hinchliffe's 
"Account of the Parish of Barthomley," and a "true history" of the 
highwayman's career, and his execution at Carmarthen, on 
November 7, 1767, from the "Universal Museum and Complete 
Magazine" (vol. iii., November, 1767).  To these Mr. Green subjoins 
what may be a less authentic document, "A true Coppy of a Letter 
delivered to the Sberiff by Edward Higgins at the time of his 
execution " - the culprit's last confession, as recorded on a 
broadsheet, with appropriate engravings. The period of time during 
which Higgins resided at Knutsford(which earlier in the century had 
been, but incidentally only, favoured by a visit from Dick Turpin) is 
dated by the register of the Parish Church, also cited by Mr. Green, 
showing him to have been married there in 1757, and to have had 
five of his children baptized there - the fifth in 1764, 50 that he 
must have lived in the parish something like eight years at all 
events. He was received into the best county society, and Mr. 
Hinchliffe met him at Oulton Park,. the seat of Mr. Egerton, whom 
he is said on this' occasion to have deprived of a handsome snuff - 
box.  On another occasion he met Lady Warburton of Arley at the 
Knutsford assembly, and, leaving early, met her on the road home, 
when her addressing him by his name probably saved her jewels. 
Other exploits in house - breaking, shop - lifting, and highway 
robberies are recorded of him by his historians; De Quincey (who 
must have known, as he saw Higgins' skeleton in the Manchester 
Natural History Museum) is responsible for the famous anecdote, 
that "on certain nights, when, perhaps, he had extra motives for 
concealing the fact of having been abroad, he drew woollen 
stockings over his horse's feet, with the purpose of deadening the 
sound in riding up a brickpaved entry, common to his own stable 
and that of a respectable neighbour."  The perpetrator of the 
murder at Bristol (for which Bath is substituted in "The Squire's 
Story,") mentioned both by De Quincey. and in the confession, 
remained undiscovered at the time; and Higgins had quitted 
Knutsford some time before he was caught as a housebreaker at 
West Mead in Wales, and tried and sentenced to death at 
Carmarthen.  His last exploit - though this may have been merely an 
act of friendship on the part of a companion in arms - was the 
forging of Lord Shelburne's signature to a letter of respite, which 
would have served its purpose but for the post - mark.
        Mrs. Gaskell's narrative is a model of its kind in clearness and 
terseness. Verisimilitude is judiciously substituted for fact, and the 
character of "Barford" for intelligence saved, by the statement that 
at the time of Mr. Higgins' residence in the town, "there were no 
stage - coaches within forty miles" of it.

April 1906.

(Provided by Souhei Yamada and Mitsuharu Matsuoka, Nagoya University, Japan, on 17 January 2002.)

Top of Page Mitsuharu Matsuoka's Home Page