Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

gance. One almost expects to see some baronial hawking party, or some bridal procession, issue from its recesses.

The great hall, although its grand open roof has been barbarously closed up, still retains its fine proportions, its dais, 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 oldfashioned buttery-hatch, give a view not merely of the degree of civilization 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 gloomy place it is now—a 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 lead 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 farnier, 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 hedgerows still richer, where the tall trees rose from banks overhung with fern, intermixed with spikes of purple foxglove ; sometimes broken by a bit of mossy park-paling, sometimes by the light shades of a beechwood, 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 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 calm retreat, -to look round that poor room and think how Genius ennobles all she touches! Heaven 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 fern; 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 immortalized 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 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 !”

Absalom and Achitophel. Now for the little hunchback of Twickenham

DRYDEN.

“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 :

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

« НазадПродовжити »