Loder is a Rock of Ages to rely on.
I heard the other day of the death of dear old John Loder, the Woodbridge bookseller, at the age of ninety-two. Though ill equipped to do justice to his memory, it seems to me a duty, and a duty that I take up gladly. It is not often that a young man has the good fortune to know as a friend one who has been a crony of his own grandfather and great-grandfather. Such was my privilege in the case of John Loder, a man whose life was all sturdy simplicity and generous friendship. He shines in no merely reflected light, but in his own native nobility. I think there are a few lovers of England and of books who will be glad not to forget his unobtrusive services to literature. If only John Loder had kept a journal it would be one of the minor treasures of the Victorian Age. He had a racy, original turn of speech, full of the Suffolk lingo that so delighted his friend FitzGerald; full, too, of the delicacies of rich thought and feeling. He used to lament in his later years that he had not kept a diary as a young man. Alas that his Boswell came too late to do more than snatch at a few of his memories.
There is a little Suffolk town on the salt tidewater of the Deben, some ten miles from the sea. Its roofs of warm red tile are clustered on the hill-slopes that run down toward the river; a massive, gray church tower and a great windmill are conspicuous landmarks. Broad barges and shabby schooners, with ruddy and amber sails, lie at anchor or drop down the river with the tide, bearing the simple sailormen of Mr. W.W. Jacobs’s stories. In the old days before the railway it was a considerable port and a town of thriving commerce. But now–well, it is little heard of in the annals of the world.
Yet Woodbridge, unknown to the tourist, has had her pilgrims, too, and her nook in literature. It was there that George Crabbe of Aldeburgh was apprenticed to a local surgeon and wrote his first poem, unhappily entitled “Inebriety.” There lived Bernard Barton, “the Quaker poet,” a versifier of a very mild sort, but immortal by reason of his friendships with greater men. Addressed to Bernard Barton, in a plain, neat hand, came scores of letters to Woodbridge in the eighteen-twenties, letters now famous, which found their way up Church Street to Alexander’s Bank. They were from no less a man than Charles Lamb. Also I have always thought it very much to Woodbridge’s credit that a certain Woodbridgian named Pulham was a fellow-clerk of Lamb’s at the East India House. Perhaps Mr. Pulham introduced Lamb and Barton to each other. And as birthplace and home of Edward FitzGerald, Woodbridge drew such visitors as Carlyle and Tennyson, who came to seek out the immortal recluse. In the years following FitzGerald’s death many a student of books, some all the way from America, found his way into John Loder’s shop to gossip about “Old Fitz.” In 1893 a few devoted members of the Omar Khayyam Club of London pilgrimaged to Woodbridge to plant by the grave at Boulge (please pronounce “Bowidge”) a rosetree that had been raised from seed brought from the bush that sheds its petals over the dust of the tent-maker at Naishapur. In 1909 Woodbridge and Ipswich celebrated the FitzGerald centennial. And Rupert Brooke’s father was (I believe) a schoolboy at Woodbridge; alas that another of England’s jewels just missed being a Woodbridgian!
Some day, if you are wise, you, too, will take a train at Liverpool Street, and drawn by one of those delightful blue locomotives of the Great Eastern Railway speed through Colchester and Ipswich and finally set foot on the yellow-pebbled platform at Woodbridge. As you step from the stuffy compartment the keen salt Deben air will tingle in your nostrils; and you may discover in it a faint under-whiff of strong tobacco–the undying scent of pipes smoked on the river wall by old Fitz, and in recent years by John Loder himself. If you have your bicycle with you, or are content to hire one, you will find that rolling Suffolk country the most delightful in the world for quiet spinning. (But carry a repair kit, for there are many flints!) Ipswich itself is full of memories–of Chaucer, and Wolsey, and Dickens (it is the “Eatanswill” of Pickwick), and it is much pleasure to one of Suffolk blood to recall that James Harper, the grandfather of the four brothers who founded the great publishing house of Harper and Brothers a century ago, was an Ipswich man, born there in 1740. You will bike to Bury St. Edmunds (where Fitz went to school and our beloved William McFee also!) and Aldeburgh, and Dunwich, to hear the chimes of the sea-drowned abbey ringing under the waves. If you are a Stevensonian, you will hunt out Cockfield Rectory, near Sudbury, where R.L.S. first met Sidney Colvin in 1872. (Colvin himself came from Bealings, only two miles from Woodbridge.) You may ride to Dunmow in Essex, to see the country of Mr. Britling; and to Wigborough, near Colchester, the haunt of Mr. McFee’s painter-cousin in “Aliens.” You will hire a sailboat at Lime Kiln Quay or the Jetty and bide a moving air and a going tide to drop down to Bawdsey ferry to hunt shark’s teeth and amber among the shingle. You will pace the river walk to Kyson–perhaps the tide will be out and sunset tints shimmer over those glossy stretches of mud. Brown seaweed, vivid green samphire, purple flats of slime where the river ran a few hours before, a steel-gray trickle of water in the scour of the channel and a group of stately swans ruffling there; and the huddled red roofs of the town with the stately church tower and the waving arms of the windmill looking down from the hill. It is a scene to ravish an artist. You may walk back by way of Martlesham Heath, stopping at the Red Lion for a quencher (the Red Lion figurehead is supposed to have come from one of the ships of the Armada). It is a different kind of Armada that Woodbridge has to reckon with nowadays. Zeppelins. One dropped a bomb–“dud” it was–in John Loder’s garden; the old man had to be restrained from running out to seize it with his own hands.