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Is it not strange that with such ballads as these of John Banim, Thomas Davis, and Gerald Griffin before us, Mr. Moore, that great and undoubted wit, should pass in the highest English circles for the only song-writer of Ireland? Do people really prefer flowers made of silk and cambric, of gum and wire, the work of human hands however perfect, to such as Mother Earth sends forth in the gushing spring-time, full of sap and odor, sparkling with sunshine and dripping with dew?
I can find no regular life of our poet; nothing beyond a chance record of a kind word to one young struggling countryman, and a kind act to another. He died in the vigor of his age; married, and, as I fear, poor. The too frequent story of a man of genius.
AUTHORS ASSOCIATED WITH PLACES.
Three summers ago I spent a few pleasant weeks among some of the loveliest scenery of our great river. The banks of the Thames, always beautiful, are nowhere more delightful than in the neighborhood of Maidenhead,—one side ramparted by the high, abrupt, chalky cliffs of Buckinghamshire; the other edging gently away into our rich Berkshire meadows, checkered with villages, villas, and woods.
My own temporary home was one of singular beauty,—a snug cottage at Taplow, looking over a garden full of honeysuckles, lilies, and roses, to a miniature terrace, whose steps led down into the water, or rather into our little boat; the fine old bridge at Maidenhead just below us; the magnificent woods of Cliefden, crowned with the lordly mansion (now, alas! a second time burnt down), rising high above; and the broad, majestic river, fringed with willow and alder, gay with an ever-changing variety—the trim pleasure-yacht, the busy barge, or the punt of the solitary angler, gliding by placidly and slowly, the very image of calm and conscious power. No pleasanter residence, through the sultry months of July and August, than the Bridge cottage at Taplow!
Besides the natural advantages of the situation, we were within reach of many interesting places, of which we, as strangers, contrived—as strangers usually do—to see a great deal more than the actual residents.
A six-mile drive took us to the lordly towers of Windsor—the most queenly of our palaces—with the adjuncts that so well become the royal residence, St. George's Chapel and Eton College, fitting shrines of learning and devotion! Windsor was full of charm. The ghostly shadow of a tree, that is, or passes for, Heme's oak—for the very man of whom we inquired our way maintained that the tree was apocryphal, although in such cases I hold it wisest and pleasantest to believe—the quaint old town itself, with the localities immortalized by Sir John and Sir Hugh, Dame Quickly and Justice 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 church-yard 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 might 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 Herschell. But the windows were denuded of their glass, the font broken, the pews dismantled, while on the tottering reading-desk one of the great Prayer-books, all moldy 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 every body 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
* Since writing this paper, the fine old church in question has been com pletely restored.
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 barbarously closed up, still retains its fine proportions, its dais, its music gallery, and the long range of windows, still adorned with the mottoes and escutcheons of the Norreys's, 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 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 among 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 theii luxuriance of hedge-row timber, and their patches of heathy com mon. 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 burned 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 favorite 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 shadietf, 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. 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