Stonehenge

Today I have been writing about Constance’s and Henry James’s visit to Stonehenge, in the autumn of 1884. It was so cold and blustery that they could barely speak to each other. On the way back to her lodgings in Salisbury, their carriage had to pull off the road and cower in a ditch for a half hour while the wind roared overhead. I can just imagine the two of them in the back with the driver in the front, trying to make chit-chat while they feared they would be swept up into the ether.

The incident is reported in a footnote in a volume of snippets of letters and journal entries that was edited by Woolson’s niece, Clare Benedict, in 1932. Apparently, she got the anecdote from Woolson’s own notes. How sad that the notes themselves have not survived. Henry and Constance didn’t write much to others about their various visits and rendezvous. They met in Dover the month before their excursion to Stonehenge, but the only evidence is from the datelines in letters they wrote to others. They couldn’t have just happened to have been there at the same time.

Writing about Stonehenge and Constance’s stay in Salisbury, where she lived within the Cathedral Close, brought back so many pleasant memories today of my own trip there last October. Salisbury is a beautiful cathedral town, and Stonehenge is, of course, the most (or just about the most) heavily visited tourist attraction on the planet. On the day I was there, it was just as blustery and cold. I couldn’t believe how the wind ripped right through my thin layers of fleece and windbreaker. Tourists from all over the globe poured out of mammoth tour buses and swarmed over the site, cameras rolling and clicking.

Trip to Europe 2012 033

Of course, there is a rope that prevents the hordes from actually getting close to the stones. In Henry and Connie’s day, though, they would have walked right up to the stones, touched them, maybe even chipped off a little souvenir. They would have walked underneath the towering lintels and probably taken a seat on a fallen stone for a brief rest. The site was popular with picnickers—Charles Darwin and his family enjoyed such a feast there in 1877—and by the late 1880s, a movement to preserve the monument from the chiseling, hammering, climbing, sliding public was finally underway. But the stones would not be fenced off until 1901.

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