« AnteriorContinuar »
One anecdote begets another, and the foregoing distantly reminds me of a story of Turner that came to me through a private source, which therefore I do not believe has got into print yet—but I may be mistaken. Once upon a time then—as the fairy stories begin, for I am not certain about the exact date, and do not care to guess it—a certain art patron demanded of Turner the price of one of his pictures, with a view to purchasing the same, and deeming that Turner asked rather a large sum, he jokingly exclaimed, “ What, all those golden guineas for so much paint on so much canvas ?" To which the famous artist replied, “Oh no, not for the paint, but for the use of the brains to put it on with !” and I think the artist scored.
Now I am wandering again, but not by road, as I set out to do, and instead of enjoying the pleasant scenery and fresh air, I am wasting the time indoors chatting about people. Let us get into the open country again, and before we start on the next stage, there will be just time to stroll round and take a glance at the fine old Jacobean pile of Hatfield House, a glorious specimen of the renaissance of English architecture that vividly recalls the halfforgotten fact that once we were, without gainsaying, an artistic people ; for no one but a great artist could have designed such a picturesque and stately abode, two qualities not so easy to combine as may be imagined.
It is a most singular fact that the name of the architect of this majestic mansion is not known ; but the building so distinctly reminds me of the work of THE STONES OF ENGLAND
John Thorpe that I have no hesitation in putting it down to his creative genius. He was beyond all doubt the greatest architect of the Elizabethan age ; it was he who designed the glorious mansions of Burleigh" by Stamford town," Longford Castle, Wollaton Hall, most probably Hardwicke Hall, Holland House, and many other notable and picturesque piles, not to forget Kirby in Northants, now, alas! a splendid ruin, which we shall visit on our homeward way.
Writing of the stately homes of England, it seems to me that the stones of England have their story to tell as well as the “Stones of Venice," over which Ruskin goes into such raptures. Why is it ever thus, that other lands seem more attractive than our own; wherein lies the virtue of the faraway? Who will do for Old England at our own doors what Ruskin has so lovingly done for Venice of the past ? What a song in stone is Salisbury's splendid cathedral, with its soaring spire rising like an arrow into the air; what a poem is Tintern's ruined abbey by the lovely Wye - side; what a romance in building is Haddon's feudal Hall; what a picture is Compton Wynyates' moated manorhouse! and these are but well-known specimens, jotted down hastily and at haphazard, of countless other such treasures, that are scattered all over our pleasant land in picturesque profusion, but which I will not attempt to enumerate catalogue fashion.
Between Hatfield and Welwyn I find no mention of the country in my note-book, nor does my memory in any way call it to mind; the scenery, therefore, could not have impressed us, and so may be termed of the uneventful order. At the sleepy little town of Welwyn we came upon its gray-toned church standing close by the road, and as we noticed the door thereof was invitingly open, we called a halt in order to take a peep inside. We made it a point this journey never to pass by an ancient church, if near at hand, without stepping within for a glance, should happily, as in this case, the door be open ; but with one or two rare exceptions we did not go a-clerk-hunting,—that sport is apt to pall upon the traveller in time, unless he be a very hardened antiquary or ardent ecclesiologist. It was an open or closed door that generally settled the point for us, whether to see a certain church or leave it unseen! We were not guide-book compilers, we did not undertake our journey with any set idea of “doing” everything, we took it solely for the purpose of spending a pleasant holiday, so we went nowhere nor saw anything under compulsion. I think it well to explain our position thus clearly at the start, so that I may not hereafter be reproached for passing this or that unvisited; nor now that our outing is over do I believe we missed much that was noteworthy on the way, nothing, indeed, of which I am aware; though, by some strange caprice of fate, it ever seems that when the traveller returns home from a tour, should anything escape his observation thereon, some kind friend is certain to assure him that just what he failed to see happened to be the very thing of the whole journey the best worth seeing! Indeed, this incident so
A SELF-APPOINTED GUIDE
regularly re-occurs to me, that I have become quite philosophical on the subject! There is no novelty about the same experience often repeated; the only rejoinder it provokes on my part is a smiling “Of course,” or a mild, remonstrating “Oh! I left that for another day.”
On entering Welwyn church, we encountered a talkative old body; why she was there I cannot say, for she was apparently doing nothing, and this is no tourist-haunted region with guides of both sexes on the watch and wait for the unwary; but there she was, a substantial personage not to be overlooked. At once she attached herself to us, and asked if we had come to see Dr. Young's tomb—“him as wrote the Night Thoughts." We meekly replied that we did not even know that he was buried there. “Well,” she responded, "now I do wonders at that, I thoughts as how everybody knew it." From the superior tone in which she said this, we felt that she looked down upon us as ignoramuses—such is the lot of the traveller who does not know everything! Then she pointed out with a grimy finger-assuming the aggravating air of one who has valuable information to impart, and will impart it whether you will or no-a marble slab put up to the memory of the worthy doctor (I presume he was a worthy doctor) on the south wall of the nave. Having duly inspected this, our self-appointed guide suddenly exclaimed, still maintaining her amusing didactic manner, “He'd much better have gone to bed and slept like a good Christian than have sit up o' nights a-writing his thoughts." We weakly
smiled acquiescence, though perhaps it was hardly a fair thing to do, for we had to confess to ourselves that we had not even read the book in question. “ Have you ?” we queried. “Lor' bless you, sir," replied she, still in an authoritative tone of voice, “books is all rubbish, I never reads rubbish; give me the papers with some news in 'em, I says, that's the reading for me,” and with this we took our hurried departure. We have taught the people to read, which is a most excellent thing, but, from all my experience, the country folk prefer newspapers, frequently of a trashy nature, to solid books; for the present they devour the "penny dreadful,” whilst the cheap classic remains unread!
Out of Welwyn the road mounted slightly, and to our left we passed a large park; the sun's rays glinting down between the big tree-trunks therein sent long lines of golden light athwart the smooth sward, and the lengthening shadows suggested to us that the day was growing old, and that, unless we wished to be belated, we had better hasten on. Then followed a pleasant stretch of wooded country, the west all aglow with the glory of the setting sun, whilst a soft grayness was gradually spreading over the east, blotting out all trivial details, and causing the landscape there to assume a dim, mysterious aspect; in that direction the scenery might be commonplace enough in the glaring light of midday—possibly it was, but just then under that vague effect it looked quite poetical, and by giving our romantic fancies full rein we could almost have imagined that there lay the enchanted forest of