Sussex in words: ‘The Gentle Downs’

This is another in the ‘Sussex in words’ blog series, taking evocative passages  to show some of the ways in which the county is captured in words, their meanings often close in sensibility to Ireland’s way of thinking about the downland landscape he loved so well.

One nineteenth-century writer who contributed to the literature on Sussex was William Harrison Ainsworth (1805–82). He has interesting links to the composer’s family in that he was born in Manchester and worked in publishing before he turned to writing. He knew several of the same authors as Ireland’s father, for example Charles Lamb and Thomas Carlyle. There is even some evidence that Ainsworth knew Alexander Ireland in person, the two men attending a banquet given by the Mayor of Manchester  in 1881.

Ainsworth came to know Sussex through his friendship with Reverend William Sergison of Cuckfield Place,  writing Ovingdean Grange in 1860, from which the passage below is taken.

No hills can be more beautiful than these South Downs. They may want height, boldness, grandeur, sublimity; they possess not forest, rock, torrent, or ravine; but they have gentleness, softness, and other endearing attributes. We will not attempt to delineate the slight but infinite varieties of form and aspect that distinguish one hill from its neighbour; for though a strong family likeness marks them all, each Down has an individual character. Regarded in combination with each other, the high ranges form an exquisite picture.


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