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Richard Doddridge Blackmore
Lorna Doone

Lorna Doone
Richard Doddridge Blackmore

R. D. Blackmore

Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor


This work is called a “romance,” because the incidents, characters, time, and scenery, are alike romantic. And in shaping this old tale, the Writer neither dares, nor desires, to claim for it the dignity or cumber it with the difficulty of an historic novel.

And yet he thinks that the outlines are filled in more carefully, and the situations (however simple) more warmly coloured and quickened, than a reader would expect to find in what is called a “legend.”

And he knows that any son of Exmoor, chancing on this volume, cannot fail to bring to mind the nurse-tales of his childhood—the savage deeds of the outlaw Doones in the depth of Bagworthy Forest, the beauty of the hapless maid brought up in the midst of them, the plain John Ridd’s Herculean power, and (memory’s too congenial food) the exploits of Tom Faggus.

March, 1869.


Few things have surprised me more, and nothing has more pleased me, than the great success of this simple tale.

For truly it is a grand success to win the attention and kind regard, not of the general public only, but also of those who are at home with the scenery, people, life, and language, wherein a native cannot always satisfy the natives.

Therefore any son of Devon may imagine, and will not grudge, the Writer’s delight at hearing from a recent visitor to the west that ‘“Lorna Doone,’ to a Devonshire man, is as good as clotted cream, almost!”

Although not half so good as that, it has entered many a tranquil, happy, pure, and hospitable home, and the author, while deeply grateful for this genial reception, ascribes it partly to the fact that his story contains no word or thought disloyal to its birthright in the fairest county of England.

January, 1873.


Author Of “The Doones Of Exmoor,” In “Harper’s Magazine,” Vol. LXV. Page 835.

A novel that has stood the test of time so well as Mr. Blackmore’s charming story of “Lorna Doone” scarcely needs a preface. Certainly no word of introduction is necessary to testify to its exquisite humor, its dramatic force, its under-current of poetic feeling, its fine touches of landscape-painting, and the novelty and interest of its subject. Since it first appeared in 1869 all these have become as household words, only, perhaps, all the admirers of “Lorna Doone” have not had the good fortune to wander through the romantic and picturesque region where the scene of the story is laid. To travel in North Devon, and over its border into Somerset (“the Summerland,” as the old Northmen call it), is to be confronted with the scenes of the novel at every turn; for Mr. Blackmore has so successfully woven the legends of the whole countryside into his story that one grows to believe it a veritable history, and is as disappointed to find traces of the romancer’s own hand here and there as to find the hills and valleys laid bare of the forests which adorned them in the time of the Doones.

It is a singular country, this Devonshire coast, made up as it is of a series of rocky headlands jutting far out into the sea, and holding between their stretching arms deep fertile wooded valleys called combes (pronounced coomes), watered by trout and salmon streams, and filled with an Italian profusion of vegetation, myrtles and fuchsias, growing in the open air, and the walls hidden with a luxuriant tapestry of ferns and ivies and blossoming vines. Even the roofs are covered with flowers; every cranny bears a blossom or a tuft of green. Then above, long stretches of barren heath (with a few twisted and wind-tortured trees), where the sheep pasture and the sky-lark sings, and in and out of the red-fronted cliffs the querulous sea-gulls flash in the sunshine, and make their plaintive moan. Near Lynton there is the famous Valley of Rocks, where the wise woman, Mother Melldrum, had her winter quarters under the Devil’s Cheese-wring.

The irregular pile of rocks that goes by this name is wrongly called Cheese-ring (or scoop) in some editions of “Lorna Doone,” instead of Cheese-wring or (press), which it somewhat resembles in shape. Southey began the fortune of Lynton as a watering-place, and wrote a glowing description of the village and the Valley of Rocks. Of the latter he says: “A palace of the pre-Adamite kings, a city of the Anakim must have appeared so shapeless and yet so like the ruins of what had been shaped after the waters of the flood subsided.” Great bowlders, half hidden by the bracken, lie about in wildest confusion; the remains of what seem to be Druidic circles can be traced here and there, and it is hard to persuade one’s self that the ragged towers and picturesque piles of rock are not the work of Cyclopean architects.

“Our home-folk always call it the ‘Danes,’ or the ‘Denes,’ which is no more, they tell me, than a hollow place, even as the word ‘den’ is,” says John Ridd. “It is a pretty place,” he adds, “though nothing to frighten any body, unless he hath lived in a gallipot.” The valley is well protected from the wind, and “there is shelter and dry fern-bedding and folk to be seen in the distance from a bank whereon the sun shines.” Here John Ridd came to consult the wise woman toward the end of March, while the weather was still cold and piercing. In the warm days of summer she lived “in a pleasant cave facing the cool side of the hill, far inland, near Hawkridge, and close over Tarr-steps—a wonderful crossing of Barle River, made (as every body knows) by Satan for a wager.” But the antiquarians of to-day assert that the curious steps were made by the early British.

Not far beyond the Valley of Rocks are the grounds of Ley Abbey, a modern mansion, but occupying the site of Lev Manor, to whose owner, Baron de Whichehalse, John Ridd accompanies Master Huckaback in search of a warrant against the Doones. In fact, all the way from Barnstaple over the parapet of whose bridge Tom Faggus leaped his wonderful mare, every nook and corner of the countryside teems with legends of the Doones. From Lynton we drive over the border into Porlock, in Somerset that quaint little village where Coleridge wrote his “Kubla Khan,” and where Lord Lovelace brought Ada Byron to his seat of Ashley Combe.

It was while riding home from Porlock market that John Ridd’s father was murdered by the Doones, and from Porlock we drove in a pony-trap over the high moors to Malmsmead, in search of the ruined huts of the Doones.

Over the heights of Yarner Moor, and past Oare Ford (now bridged over), the road lay past the old church of Oare, where Lorna Doone and John Ridd were married, and then into the deep flowery lanes that are the glory of Devon and Somerset. Malmsmead proved to be a little cluster of heavily thatched cottages, nestled under overhanging trees, where stood an ancient signboard with “Badgworthy” on one of its arms, pointing the way we should go. This d on the old sign-board accounted for the local pronunciation of Badgery, as the river is always called.

At Malmsmead the road ends, and thence one must proceed on foot. Several deep and flowery lanes lead one at length to the river where a lonely stone cottage stands on its further brink. This is Clowd Farm, and here all paths cease. Two hundred years ago, in the time of the Doones, the narrow valley through which the Bagworthy now dances in the open sunshine was filled with trees; but now, with the exception of a withered and stunted old orchard and grove near the farm, there is not a tree to be seen, and the Bagworthy, a lonely but cheerful trout stream, rattles along in the broad sunshine through a deep valley, whose sides slope steeply upward.

After walking about three miles into the heart of the wilderness, another deep glen, shut in by the same sloping heather-covered hills, suddenly opens to the right. There are no cliffs, no overhanging trees, not even a bush, but all along the stream, “with its soft, dark babble,” lie heaps and half-circles of stone nearly buried in the turf, and almost hidden by the tall ferns and foxgloves. And this is what we went out for to see! These are the ruins of the Doones’’ huts. There could not be anything more disappointing. Two hundred years have effectually destroyed all distinctive traits, and they might have been sheep-folds or pig-sties, or any other innocent agricultural erection for aught that we could tell. “Not a single house stood there but was the home of murder,” says their historian. The suns and rains of two hundred and odd years have effectually washed out their blood-stains, and there is nothing left there but peace.

Some way beyond the ruins stands a small stone cottage of the most modern order. We found it to be the abode of a shepherd, away with his flock on the hills, but his wife, no shepherdess of the Dresden china order, but a hearty and substantial dame, gave us a cordial welcome. She was in a state of intense delight at our disappointment about the ruins, and discussed the situation in that soft Somersetshire accent that gives such breadth and jollity to the language. “E’ll not vind it a beet loike ta buik,” she said, with her cheery laugh. “Buik’s weel mad’ up; it houlds ‘ee loike, and ‘ee can’t put it by, but there’s nobbut three pairts o’t truth. Hunnerds cooms up here to se’t,” she added, with a chuckle.

The fact is that the traditional and the ideal are as inextricably mixed in this charming story of “Lorna Doone” as the thousand varieties of seeds in the fairy tale which the princess was expected to sort out, and it would be almost as difficult to separate them. Perhaps the best way, after all, is—not to try.

Katharine Hillard.



If anybody cares to read a simple tale told simply, I, John Ridd, of the parish of Oare, in the county of Somerset, yeoman and churchwarden, have seen and had a share in some doings of this neighborhood, which I will try to set down in order, God sparing my life and memory. And they who light upon this book should bear in mind not only that I write for the clearing of our parish from ill fame and calumny, but also a thing which will, I trow, appear too often in it, to wit—that I am nothing more than a plain unlettered man, not read in foreign languages, as a gentleman might be, nor gifted with long words (even in mine own tongue), save what I may have won from the Bible or Master William Shakespeare, whom, in the face of common opinion, I do value highly. In short, I am an ignoramus, but pretty well for a yeoman.

My father being of good substance, at least as we reckon in Exmoor, and seized in his own right, from many generations, of one, and that the best and largest, of the three farms into which our parish is divided (or rather the cultured part thereof), he John Ridd, the elder, churchwarden, and overseer, being a great admirer of learning, and well able to write his name, sent me his only son to be schooled at Tiverton, in the county of Devon. For the chief boast of that ancient town (next to its woollen staple) is a worthy grammar-school, the largest in the west of England, founded and handsomely endowed in the year 1604 by Master Peter Blundell, of that same place, clothier.

Here, by the time I was twelve years old, I had risen into the upper school, and could make bold with Eutropius and Cæsar—by aid of an English version—and as much as six lines of Ovid. Some even said that I might, before manhood, rise almost to the third form, being of a persevering nature; albeit, by full consent of all (except my mother), thick-headed. But that would have been, as I now perceive, an ambition beyond a farmer’s son; for there is but one form above it, and that made of masterful scholars, entitled rightly “monitors”. So it came to pass, by the grace of God, that I was called away from learning, whilst sitting at the desk of the junior first in the upper school, and beginning the Greek verb


My eldest grandson makes bold to say that I never could have learned


ten pages further on, being all he himself could manage, with plenty of stripes to help him. I know that he hath more head than I—though never will he have such body; and am thankful to have stopped betimes, with a meek and wholesome head-piece.

But if you doubt of my having been there, because now I know so little, go and see my name, “John Ridd,” graven on that very form. Forsooth, from the time I was strong enough to open a knife and to spell my name, I began to grave it in the oak, first of the block whereon I sate, and then of the desk in front of it, according as I was promoted from one to other of them: and there my grandson reads it now, at this present time of writing, and hath fought a boy for scoffing at it—“John Ridd his name”—and done again in “winkeys,” a mischievous but cheerful device, in which we took great pleasure.

This is the manner of a “winkey,” which I here set down, lest child of mine, or grandchild, dare to make one on my premises; if he does, I shall know the mark at once, and score it well upon him. The scholar obtains, by prayer or price, a handful of saltpetre, and then with the knife wherewith he should rather be trying to mend his pens, what does he do but scoop a hole where the desk is some three inches thick. This hole should be left with the middle exalted, and the circumference dug more deeply. Then let him fill it with saltpetre, all save a little space in the midst, where the boss of the wood is. Upon that boss (and it will be the better if a splinter of timber rise upward) he sticks the end of his candle of tallow, or “rat’s tail,” as we called it, kindled and burning smoothly. Anon, as he reads by that light his lesson, lifting his eyes now and then it may be, the fire of candle lays hold of the petre with a spluttering noise and a leaping. Then should the pupil seize his pen, and, regardless of the nib, stir bravely, and he will see a glow as of burning mountains, and a rich smoke, and sparks going merrily; nor will it cease, if he stir wisely, and there be a good store of petre, until the wood is devoured through, like the sinking of a well-shaft. Now well may it go with the head of a boy intent upon his primer, who betides to sit thereunder! But, above all things, have good care to exercise this art before the master strides up to his desk, in the early gray of the morning.

Other customs, no less worthy, abide in the school of Blundell, such as the singeing of nightcaps; but though they have a pleasant savour, and refreshing to think of, I may not stop to note them, unless it be that goodly one at the incoming of a flood. The school-house stands beside a stream, not very large, called Lowman, which flows into the broad river of Exe, about a mile below. This Lowman stream, although it be not fond of brawl and violence (in the manner of our Lynn), yet is wont to flood into a mighty head of waters when the storms of rain provoke it; and most of all when its little co-mate, called the Taunton Brook—where I have plucked the very best cresses that ever man put salt on—comes foaming down like a great roan horse, and rears at the leap of the hedgerows. Then are the gray stone walls of Blundell on every side encompassed, the vale is spread over with looping waters, and it is a hard thing for the day-boys to get home to their suppers.

And in that time, old Cop, the porter (so called because he hath copper boots to keep the wet from his stomach, and a nose of copper also, in right of other waters), his place is to stand at the gate, attending to the flood-boards grooved into one another, and so to watch the torrents rise, and not be washed away, if it please God he may help it. But long ere the flood hath attained this height, and while it is only waxing, certain boys of deputy will watch at the stoop of the drain-holes, and be apt to look outside the walls when Cop is taking a cordial. And in the very front of the gate, just without the archway, where the ground is paved most handsomely, you may see in copy-letters done a great P.B. of white pebbles. Now, it is the custom and the law that when the invading waters, either fluxing along the wall from below the road-bridge, or pouring sharply across the meadows from a cut called Owen’s Ditch—and I myself have seen it come both ways—upon the very instant when the waxing element lips though it be but a single pebble of the founder’s letters, it is in the license of any boy, soever small and undoctrined, to rush into the great school-rooms, where a score of masters sit heavily, and scream at the top of his voice, “P.B.”

Then, with a yell, the boys leap up, or break away from their standing; they toss their caps to the black-beamed roof, and haply the very books after them; and the great boys vex no more the small ones, and the small boys stick up to the great ones. One with another, hard they go, to see the gain of the waters, and the tribulation of Cop, and are prone to kick the day-boys out, with words of scanty compliment. Then the masters look at one another, having no class to look to, and (boys being no more left to watch) in a manner they put their mouths up. With a spirited bang they close their books, and make invitation the one to the other for pipes and foreign cordials, recommending the chance of the time, and the comfort away from cold water.

But, lo! I am dwelling on little things and the pigeons’ eggs of the infancy, forgetting the bitter and heavy life gone over me since then. If I am neither a hard man nor a very close one, God knows I have had no lack of rubbing and pounding to make stone of me. Yet can I not somehow believe that we ought to hate one another, to live far asunder, and block the mouth each of his little den; as do the wild beasts of the wood, and the hairy outrangs now brought over, each with a chain upon him. Let that matter be as it will. It is beyond me to unfold, and mayhap of my grandson’s grandson. All I know is that wheat is better than when I began to sow it.



Now the cause of my leaving Tiverton school, and the way of it, were as follows. On the 29th day of November, in the year of our Lord 1673, the very day when I was twelve years old, and had spent all my substance in sweetmeats, with which I made treat to the little boys, till the large boys ran in and took them, we came out of school at five o’clock, as the rule is upon Tuesdays. According to custom we drove the day-boys in brave rout down the causeway from the school-porch even to the gate where Cop has his dwelling and duty. Little it recked us and helped them less, that they were our founder’s citizens, and haply his own grand-nephews (for he left no direct descendants), neither did we much inquire what their lineage was. For it had long been fixed among us, who were of the house and chambers, that these same day-boys were all “caddes,” as we had discovered to call it, because they paid no groat for their schooling, and brought their own commons with them. In consumption of these we would help them, for our fare in hall fed appetite; and while we ate their victuals, we allowed them freely to talk to us. Nevertheless, we could not feel, when all the victuals were gone, but that these boys required kicking from the premises of Blundell. And some of them were shopkeepers’ sons, young grocers, fellmongers, and poulterers, and these to their credit seemed to know how righteous it was to kick them. But others were of high family, as any need be, in Devon—Carews, and Bouchiers, and Bastards, and some of these would turn sometimes, and strike the boy that kicked them. But to do them justice, even these knew that they must be kicked for not paying.

After these “charity-boys” were gone, as in contumely we called them—“If you break my bag on my head,” said one, “how will feed thence to-morrow?”—and after old Cop with clang of iron had jammed the double gates in under the scruff-stone archway, whereupon are Latin verses, done in brass of small quality, some of us who were not hungry, and cared not for the supper-bell, having sucked much parliament and dumps at my only charges—not that I ever bore much wealth, but because I had been thrifting it for this time of my birth—we were leaning quite at dusk against the iron bars of the gate some six, or it may be seven of us, small boys all, and not conspicuous in the closing of the daylight and the fog that came at eventide, else Cop would have rated us up the green, for he was churly to little boys when his wife had taken their money. There was plenty of room for all of us, for the gate will hold nine boys close-packed, unless they be fed rankly, whereof is little danger; and now we were looking out on the road and wishing we could get there; hoping, moreover, to see a good string of pack-horses come by, with troopers to protect them. For the day-boys had brought us word that some intending their way to the town had lain that morning at Sampford Peveril, and must be in ere nightfall, because Mr. Faggus was after them. Now Mr. Faggus was my first cousin and an honour to the family, being a Northmolton man of great renown on the highway from Barum town even to London. Therefore of course, I hoped that he would catch the packmen, and the boys were asking my opinion as of an oracle, about it.

A certain boy leaning up against me would not allow my elbow room, and struck me very sadly in the stomach part, though his own was full of my parliament. And this I felt so unkindly, that I smote him straightway in the face without tarrying to consider it, or weighing the question duly. Upon this he put his head down, and presented it so vehemently at the middle of my waistcoat, that for a minute or more my breath seemed dropped, as it were, from my pockets, and my life seemed to stop from great want of ease. Before I came to myself again, it had been settled for us that we should move to the “Ironing-box,” as the triangle of turf is called where the two causeways coming from the school-porch and the hall-porch meet, and our fights are mainly celebrated; only we must wait until the convoy of horses had passed, and then make a ring by candlelight, and the other boys would like it. But suddenly there came round the post where the letters of our founder are, not from the way of Taunton but from the side of Lowman bridge, a very small string of horses, only two indeed (counting for one the pony), and a red-faced man on the bigger nag.

“Plaise ye, worshipful masters,” he said, being feared of the gateway, “carn ‘e tull whur our Jan Ridd be?”

“Hyur a be, ees fai, Jan Ridd,” answered a sharp little chap, making game of John Fry’s language.