« AnteriorContinuar »
all about it has so exactly the serene and tranquil aspect that one should expect to see in an English village two centuries ago, thai it requires but a slight effort of fancy to image to ourselves the old blind bard still sitting in that little parlor, or sunning himself on the garden-seat 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 b) 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 Diopmore 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 bj the side of the Thames, as it bounded the beautiful grounds of Lord Orkney, or the magnificent demesne of Sir George Warren der, the verdant lawns of Cliefden.
That place also is full of memories. There it was that tht. famous Duke of Buckingham fought his no less famous duel with Lord Shrewsbury, while 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 marvelous 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 opinions, always in the wrong, Was every thing 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!"
Drydkn. Absalom and Ackitophel.
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 flockbed, 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 'mid the ring Of mimic statesmen and their merry king 1
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 I"
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 cliffs, also clothed with trees to the very summit; trees of all kinds, the oak, the beech, the ash, the elm, the
* And yet they have been almost equaled by a French artist; Count Anthony Hamilton in the Memoires de Grammont.
yew, the cypress, the pine, the juniper. The woodland path, no trimly kept walk, but a rude, narrow cart-track, thridded its way amid 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 river by the refreshing coolness of the breeze, and the gentle rippling of the slow current; while, sometimes, a sudden opening would give to view some rude landingplace where the boats were laden with chalk; or a vista accidentally formed by the felling of some large tree would show us an old mill across the stream framed in by meeting branches like a picture.
The Taplow spring, with its pretty cottage for picknicks, often proved the end of our evening walks. I loved to see the gushing of that cool, clear, sparkling spring, plashing over the huge stones that seemed meant to restrain it, sporting in pools and eddies, and lost almost as soon as it wells from the earth amid the waters of the silver Thames.
Steep as it seems and is, the chalky cliff is not inaccessible. Here and there it recedes from the river, sometimes hollowed into deep caves, and then again it advances with a more gradual slope, so as to admit of zigzag walks practiced to the summit. These walks, almost buried among the rich foliage, have a singular attraction in their steepness and their difficulty. Long branches of ivy trail from the cliff in every direction, mingled at this season with a gorgeous profusion of the clinging woodbine, the yellow St. John's wort, and the large purple flowers of the Canterbury bell. Our steps were literally impeded by these long garlands. Our feet were perpetually entangled in them. We crushed them as we passed.
The view from the Hermit's hut, on the height, is among those that can never be forgotten. We looked over the tops of the tall trees, down a sheer descent of I know not how many hundred feet, to a weir upon the Thames, foaming and brawling under our very eyes. Just beyond was one of the loveliest reaches of the river, with Cookham bridge and the fine old church forming a picture in itself. Then came a wide extent of field and meadow, mansion and village, tower and spire, the rich woods of Berkshire interspersed among all, the noble river winding away into the distance, and the far-off hills mingling with the clouds, until we knew not which was earth or which was sky. j
Very pleasant was that sojourn by the Thames side. And among the pleasures that I most value, one of those which I brought home with me and trust never to lose, must be reckoned the becoming acquainted with Mr. Noel's "Rymes and Roundelayes," and forming, not an acquaintance, for we have never met, but a friendship with the author.
Mr. Noel resides in a beautiful place in that beautiful neighborhood, leading the life of an accomplished but somewhat secluded country gentleman;—a most enviable life, and one well adapted to the observation of nature and to the production of poetry, but by no means so well calculated to make a volume of poems extensively known. Hence it is that the elegant and graphic description of Thames scenery which I subjoin, although it has been published nearly ten years, will probably have the charm of novelty to many of my readers.
A THAMES VOYAGE.
Gracefully, gracefully glides our bark
On the bosom of Father Thames,
Break into a thousand gems.
The kingfisher not straighter darts
Than our arrowy pinnace shoots and parts
We have passed the chalk-cliff on whose crown The hermit's hut doth cling,
We are come where Hedsor's crested fount
Pours forth its babbling rill,
To the small church on the hill.
On, like a hawk upon the wing,
Our little wherry flies;
And the wavelets round her rise.
In view is Cookham's ivied tower;
And, up yon willowy reach, Enfolding many a fairy bower,
Wave Bisham's woods of beech.
O'er Marlow's loveliest vale they look,
And its spire that seeks the skies; And afar, to where in its meadow-nook
Medmenham's Abbey lies.
Still on, still on, as we smoothly glide,
Swift dragon-flies, with their gauzy wings,
Flit glistening to and fro,
O'er the waters glance and glow. There are spots where nestle wild flowers small
With many a mingling gleam; Where the broad flag waves, and the bulrush tall
Nods still to the thrusting stream. The Forget-me-not on the water's edge
Reveals her lovely hue,
Is embroidered with her blue. And in bays where matted foliage weaves
A shadowy arch on high,
The virgin lilies lie. Fair fall those bonny flowers! 0 how
I love their petals bright! Smoother than Ariel's moonlit brow 1
The Water-Nymph's delight!Those milk-white cups with a golden core,
Like marble lamps, that throw
And the waves that round them flow!
Steadily, steadily, speeds our bark,