Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Shallow, and all the company of the Merry Wives, had to me an unfailing attraction. To Windsor we drove again and again, until the pony spontaneously turned his head Windsor-ward.

Then we reviewed the haunts of Gray, the house at Stoke Pogis, and the churchyard where he is buried, and which contains the touching epitaph wherein the pious son commemorates “the careful mother of many children, one of whom only had the misfortune to survive her.” To that spot we drove one bright summer-day, and we were not the only visitants. It was pleasant to see one admirer seated under a tree, sketching the church, and another party, escorted by the clergyman, walking reverently through it. Stoke Pogis, however, is not without its rivals; and we also visited the old church at Upton, whose ivy-mantled tower claims to be the veritable tower of the “ Elegy.” A very curious scene did that old church exhibit—that of an edifice not yet decayed, but abandoned to decay, an incipient ruin, such as probably ınight have been paralleled in the monasteries of England after the Reformation, or in the churches of France after the first Revolution. The walls were still standing, still full of monuments and monumental inscriptions: in some the gilding was yet fresh ; and one tablet, especially, had been placed there very recently, commemorating the talent and virtues of the celebrated astronomer, Sir John Herschel. But the windows were denuded of their glass, the font broken, the pews dismantled; whilst on the tottering reading-desk one of the great Prayer-books, all mouldy and damp, still lay open-last vestige of the holy services with which it once resounded. Another church had been erected, but it looked new and naked, and everybody seemed to regret the old place of worship, the roof of which was remarkable for the purity of its design.*

Another of our excursions was to Ockwells—a curious and beautiful specimen of domestic architecture in the days before the Tudors. Strange it seems to me that no one has exactly imitated that graceful front, with its steep roof terminated on either side by two projecting gables, the inner one lower than the other, adorned with oak-carving, regular and delicate as that on an ivory fan. The porch has equal elegance. One

* Since writing this paper, the fine old church in question has been completely restored.

almost expects to see some baronial hawking-party, or some bridal procession, issue from its recesses. The great hall, althcugh its grand open roof has been barbarously closed up, still retains its fine proportions, its daïs, its music-gallery, and the long range of windows, still adorned with the mottos and escutcheons of the Norreys, their kindred and allies. It has long been used as a farm-house; and one marvels that the painted windows should have remained uninjured through four centuries of neglect and change. Much that was interesting has disappeared, but enough still remains to gratify those who love to examine the picturesque dwellings of our ancestors. The noble staircase, the iron-studded door, the prodigious lock, the gigantic key (too heavy for a woman to wield), the cloistered passages, the old-fashioned butteryhatch, give a view not merely of the degree of civilisation of the age, but of the habits and customs of familiar daily life.

Another drive took us to the old grounds of Lady Place, where, in demolishing the house, care had been taken to preserve the vaults in which the great Whig leaders wrote and signed the famous letter to William of Orange which drove James the Second from the throne. A gloomny place it is now—à sort of underground ruin—and gloomy enough the patriots must have found it on that memorable occasion; the tombs of the monks (it had formerly been a monastery) under their feet, the rugged walls around them, and no ray of light, except the lanterns they may have brought with them or the torches which they lit. Surely the signature of that summons which secured the liberties of England would make an impressive picture-Lord Somers in the foreground, and the other Whig statesmen grouped around him. A Latin inscription records a visit made by George III. to the vaults; and truly it is amongst the places that monarchs would do well to visit-full of stern lessons !

Chief pilgrimage of all was one that led us first to Beaconsfield, through the delightful lanes of Buckinghamshire, with their luxuriance of hedge-row timber, and their patches of heathy common. There we paid willing homage to all that remained of the habitation consecrated by the genius of Edmund Burke. Little is left, beyond gates and outbuildings, for the house has been burnt down and the grounds disparked ; but still some of his walks remained, and an old well and traces of an old garden—and pleasant it was to tread where such a man had trodden, and to converse with the few who still remembered him. We saw, too, the stalwart yeoman who had the honour, not only of furnishing to Sir Joshua the model of his “Infant Hercules,” but even of suggesting the subject. Thus it happened. Passing a few days with Mr. Burke at his favourite retirement, the great painter accompanied his host on a visit to his bailiff. A noble boy lay sprawling in the cradle in the room where they sat. His mother would fain have removed him, but Sir Joshua, then commissioned to paint a picture for the Empress Catherine, requested that the child might remain, sent with all speed for palette and easel, and accomplished his task with that success which so frequently waits upon a sudden inspiration. It is remarkable that the good farmer, whose hearty cordial kindness I shall not soon forget, has kept in a manner most unusual the promise of his sturdy infancy, and makes as near an approach to the proportions of the fabled Hercules as ever Buckinghamshire yeoman displayed.

Beaconsfield, however, and even the cherished retirement of Burke, was by no means the goal of our pilgrimage. The true shrine was to be found four miles farther, in the small cottage at Chalfont St. Giles, where Milton found a refuge during the Great Plague of London.

The road wound through lanes still shadier and hedge-rows still richer, where the tall trees rose from banks overhung with fern, intermixed with spikes of purple fox-glove; sometimes broken by a bit of mossy park-paling, soraetimes by the light shades of a beech-wood, until at last we reached the quiet and secluded village whose very first dwelling was consecrated by the abode of the great poet.

It is a small tenement of four rooms, one on either side the door, standing in a little garden, and having its gable to the road. A short inscription, almost hidden by the foliage of the vine, tells that Milton once lived within those sacred walls. The cottage has been so seldom visited, is so little desecrated by thronging admirers, and has suffered so little from alteration or decay, and all about it has so exactly the serene and tranquil aspect that one should have expected to see in an English village two centuries ago, that it requires but a slight effort of fancy to image to ourselves the old blind bard still fern ;

sitting in that little parlour, or sunning himself on the gardenseat beside the well. Milton is said to have corrected at Chalfont some of the sheets of the “ Paradise Lost.” The “Paradise Regained” he certainly composed there. One loves to think of him in that calın retreat,—to look round that poor room and think how Genius ennobles all she touches ! en forefend that change in any shape, whether of embellishment or of decay, should fall upon that cottage !

Another resort of ours—not a pilgrimage, but a haunt—was the forest of old pollards, known by the name of Burnham Beeches. A real forest it is—six hundred acres in extent, and varied by steep declivities, wild dells, and tangled dingles. The ground, clothed with the fine short turf where the thyme and the harebell love to grow, is partly covered with luxuriant

and the juniper and the holly form a fitting underwood for those magnificent trees, hollowed by age, whose profuse canopy of leafy boughs seems so much too heavy for the thin rind by which it is supported. Mr. Grote has a house here on which we looked with reverence; and in one of the loveliest spots we came upon a monument erected by Mrs. Grote in memory of Mendelssohn, and enriched by an elegant inscription from her pen.

We were never weary of wandering among the Burnham Beeches ; sometimes taking Dropmore by the way, where the taste of the late Lord Grenville created from a barren heath a perfect Eden of rare trees and matchless flowers. But even better than amid that sweet woodland scene did I love to ramble by the side of the Thames, as it bounded the beautiful grounds of Lord Orkney, or the magnificent demesne of Sir George Warrender, the verdant lawns of Cliefden.

That place also is full of memories. There it was that the famous Duke of Buckingham fought his no less famous duel with Lord Shrewsbury, whilst the fair countess, dressed, rather than disguised, as a page, held the horse of her victorious paramour. We loved to gaze on that princely mansion, repeating to each other the marvellous lines in which our two matchless satirists have immortalised the Duke's follies, and doubting which portrait were the best. We may at least be sure that no third painter will excel them.* Alas ! who reads

* And yet they have been almost equalled by a French artist; Count Anthony Hamilton in the “ Mémoires de Grammont.”

Pope or Dryden now! I am afraid, very much afraid, that to many a fair young reader these celebrated characters will be as good as manuscript. I will at all events try the experiment. Here they be :

“ In the first rank of these did Zimri stand :

A man so various, that he seemed to be
Not one,

but all mankind's epitome;
Stiff in opinion, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts and nothing long ;
But, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon;
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking,
Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking.
Blest madman, who could every hour employ,
With something new to wish or to enjoy !”

DRYDEN, Absalom and Achitophel. Now for the little hunchback of Twickenham

“In the worst inn's worst room, with mat half hung,
The walls of plaster, and the floor of dung;
On once a flock-bed, but repaired with straw,
With tape-tied curtains never meant to draw,
The George and Garter dangling from that bed,
Where tawdry yellow strove with dirty red :
Great Villiers lies :- but ah, how changed from him,
That life of pleasure and that soul of whim,
Gallant and gay in Cliefden's proud alcove,
The bower of wanton Shrewsbury and love !
Or just as gay at council ʼmid the ring
Of mimic statesmen and their merry king !
No wit to flatter left of all his store;
No fool to laugh at, which he valued more;
There, victor of his health, of fortune, friends
And fame, the lord of useless thousands ends !'

POPE, Moral Essays. The charming walk at Lord Orkney's, which I was so kindly permitted to enjoy, and which I did enjoy so thoroughly, ran between the noble river shaded and overhung by trees, and the high steep chalky cliff, also clothed with trees to the very summit; trees of all kinds, the oak, the beech, the ash, the elm, the yew, the cypress, the pine, the juniper. The woodland path~no trimly-kept walk, but a rude narrow cart-track -thridded its way amidst nooks so closely planted and branches so interlaced, that oftentimes the water only glanced upon us by glimpses through the foliage, just as in looking upward we caught a gleam of the blue sky. Sometimes again it was totally hidden, and we only felt the presence of the

« ZurückWeiter »