Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

brated astronomer, Sir John Herschell. 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 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 barbárously 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's, their kindred and allies. It has long

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

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 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 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 led us first to Beaconsfield, through the delightful lanes of Buckinghamshire, with their luxuriance of hedgerow 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 old 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 honor 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 Catharine, 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 gaol 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 spires of purple foxglove; sometimes broken by a bit of mossy park-paling, sometimes 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.

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 expect to see in an English village two centuries ago, that it requires but a slight effort of fancy to image to ourselves the blind old 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

« AnteriorContinuar »