Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences



I WELCOME the gratifying request of the author of this book that I should write some little preface to it, for it is a happiness to me to be allowed thus to associate myself with him and with his subject : with one who has so long presented an admirable combination of the practical man of Science and the constant lover of Nature's ways and beauty; with the affectionate remembrancer of ancient customs and old sterling characters, and the surgeon who for so many years fought successfully in the front ranks of a steadily advancing profession.

I had the good fortune to act as "dresser" to Mr. Blaker in the wards of the Sussex County Hospital when he held there the post of a Senior Surgeon, but I only knew in part then why I was so drawn to the distinguished operator (for Surgery and its professors had, alas! but small attraction for me in those days); but now I know better why the lad who had been bidden to lay down the palette-knife for the scalpel was so attracted; it was because, beneath the professional aspect and skill, and the general kindliness of manner, lived the man who could write as he does on page 82 of the "heavenly" night rides he loved to take over hills and through shadowed lanes; such roamings as were and still are, no less dear to me; and who loved the best in the minds of men as ardently as he strove to alleviate their bodily sufferings.

It is well in these times of relentlessly increasing mechanism to keep before one still, if it be possible, the memory and ideal of those unhurried, simpler and, as Mr. Blaker thinks, happier days, and to live, if one in any way can, still just in touch with that calming quietude which is so rapidly passing away, but in which the voice of nature and of nature's God has its best chance of reaching the ears of men. The possibility of such peace becomes less and less, but we may enjoy at least the illusion that it is yet ours when we revisit such haunts as our author describes, abiding places still of beauty and simple living where we may, for a happy hour, almost believe that the serenity of other days is not quite lost to us.

It may be a gain in some ways that many can now rush down the roadways at fifty miles an hour, but, as Mr. E. V. Lucas asks,

" What if while the motor pants
   You miss the nightingale?"

I fain would glean a moment where Mr. Blaker has reaped so abundantly, and gather, if I may, one more memory to add to his store—a memory of flocks and the music of their bells. Lately, amidst the over-filled, restless days of my own professional life, I regained for a few hours the sense of peace and contentment which our beloved Downs have still in their keeping. Standing alone on one of their great "beacons", I suddenly caught the far-off, deep dong-dong of one of the old canister sheep-bells that make part of the special music of the Sussex hills. Then another and others could be heard, of varying pitch, but all low-toned and sweet, till, looking in the direction of the mellow chime, saw the music-makers appear over the crest, and soon all the flock was spreading fan-wise on the hillside; last the shepherd appeared, and stood leaning forward with his hands clasped upon his crook's head and his dog beside him, looking down on his feeding ewes.

And, at once, the hill seemed peopled, purposeful and charged with its true life and significance; it was as when a bright look of welcome suddenly greets one from a friend's face; or a ship appears on an empty sea, bringing with it a thousand linked thoughts of human life and hope and endeavour; even, as one watched the light arc of sheep appear on the darker hillside, one might think of the moon sailing into and glorifying the waiting, vacant spaces of heaven.

And when the flock passed on, streaming over the shoulder of the hill and down into the next hollow that held their fold, the soft, mellow clangour of their bells—many of them hand-wrought in Sussex forges near on a hundred years ago—seemed a welling out not only of vibrations from their ancient gold-like metal, but of others which one could fancy they must have absorbed from the sweet air wherein they had swung so long, air which seems to the haunter of the Downs, laden, not alone with its special balm of "close-but thyme that smells like dawn in Paradise," but with all the spices that float from earth and sea.

May this book find its rightful place on the special shelf of every good Sussex-lover; and may its author live to enjoy a full measure of the added affection his accurate, loving record will assuredly bring him. I thank him that I am now able, once more to write my name in happy association with Sussex and Sussex men, for with Rudyard Kipling, I can say :—

" I've given my soul to the Southdown grass
   And sheep-bells tinkled where you pass.
   Of Firle an' Ditchling an' sails at sea,
   I reckon you keep my soul for me !"


     October, 1919.



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