First Impressions of the English (3)

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CHAPTER VII.


Hagley parish church—The sepulchral marbles of the Lytteltons—Epitaph on the Lady Lucy—The phrenological doctrine of hereditary transmission; unsupported by history, save in a way in which history can be made to support anything—Thomas Lord Lyttelton; his moral character a strange contrast to that of his father—The elder Lyttelton; his deathbed—Abberrations of the younger Lord—Strange ghost story; curious modes of accounting for it—Return to Stourbridge—Late Drive—Hales Owen.



THE parish church of Hagley, an antique Gothic building of small size, much hidden in wood, lies at the foot of the hill, within a few hundred yards of the mansion-house.  It was erected in the remote past, long ere the surrounding pleasure grounds had any existence; but it has now come to be as thoroughly enclosed in them as the urns and obelisks of the rising ground above, and forms as picturesque an object as any urn or obelisk among them all.  There is, however, a vast difference between jest and earnest; and the bona fide tomb-stones of the building inscribed with names of the dead, and its dark walls and pointed roof reared with direct reference to a life to which the present is but the brief vestibule, do not quite harmonize with temples of Theseus and the Muses, or political columns erected in honour of forgotten Princes of Wales, who quarrelled with their fathers, and were cherished, in consequence, by the Opposition.  As I came upon it unawares, and saw it emerge from its dense thicket of trees, I felt as if, at an Egyptian feast, I had unwittingly brushed off the veil from the admonitory skeleton.  The door lay open—a few workmen were engaged in paving a portion of the floor, and repairing some breaches in the vault; and as I entered, one of their number was employed in shovelling, some five or six feet under the pavement, among the dust of the Lytteltons.  The trees outside render the place exceedingly gloomy.  "At Hagley," the too celebrated Thomas Lord Lyttelton is made to say, in the posthumous volume of Letters which bears his name, "there is a temple of Theseus, commonly called by the gardener the temple of Perseus, which stares you in the face wherever you go; while the temple of God, commonly called by the gardener the parish church, is so industriously hid by trees from without, that the pious matron can hardly read her prayer-book within." [6]  A brown twilight still lingers in the place: the lettered marbles along the walls glisten cold and sad in the gloom, as if invested by the dun Cimmerian atmosphere described by the old poet as brooding over the land of the dead


                              The dusky coasts
Peopled by shoals of visionary ghosts.


One straggling ray of sunshine, coloured by the stained glass of a narrow window, and dimmed yet more by the motty dust-reek raised by the workmen, fell on a small oblong tablet, the plainest and least considerable in the building, and, by lighting up its inscription of five short lines, gave to it, by one of those fortuitous happinesses in which so much of the poetry of common life consists, the prominence which it deserves.  It briefly intimates that it was placed there, in its naked unadornedness, "at the particular desire of the Right Honourable George Lord Lyttelton, who died August 22, 1773, aged sixty-four."  The poet had willed, like another titled poet of less unclouded reputation, that his "epitaph should be his name alone."  Beside the plain slab—so near that they almost touch—there is a marble of great elegance—the monument of the Lady Lucy.  It shows that she pre-deceased her husband—dying at the early age of twenty-nine—nearly thirty years.  Her epitaph, like the Monody, must be familiar to most of my readers; but for the especial benefit of the class whose reading may have lain rather among the poets of the present than of the past century, I give it as transcribed from the marble.


Made to engage all hearts and charm all eyes,
Though meek, magnanimous—though witty, wise;
Polite as she in courts had ever been,
Yet good as she the world had never seen;
The noble fire of an exalted mind,
With gentle female tenderness combined;
Her speech was the melodious voice of love,
Her song the warbling of the vernal grove;
Her eloquence was sweeter than her song,
Soft as her heart, and as her reason strong:
Her form each beauty of the mind expressed;
Her mind was virtue by the graces dressed.


    England, in the eighteenth century, saw few better men or better women than Lord Lyttelton and his lady; and it does seem a curious enough fact, that their only son, a boy of many hopes and many advantages, and who possessed quick parts and a vigorous intellect, should have proved, notwithstanding, one of the most flagitious personages of his age.  The first Lord Lyttelton was not more conspicuous for his genius and his virtues than the second Lord Lyttelton for his talents and his vices.

    There are many who, though they do not subscribe to the creed of the phrenologist, are yet unconsciously influenced by its doctrines; and never, perhaps, was the phrenological belief more general than now, that the human race, like some of the inferior races, is greatly dependent for the development of what is best in it, on what I shall venture to term purity of breed.  It has become a sort of axiom, that well-dispositioned intellectual parents produce a well-dispositioned intellectual offspring; and of course, as human history is various enough, when partially culled, to furnish evidence in support of anything, there have been instances adduced in proof of the position, which it would take a long time to enumerate.  But were exactly the opposite belief held, the same various history would be found to furnish at least as many evidences in support of it as of the other.  The human race, so far at least as the mental and the moral are concerned, comes very doubtfully, if at all, under the law of the inferior natures.  David Hume, better acquainted with history than most men, gives what seems to be the true state of the case.  "The races of animals," he says, "never degenerate when carefully attended to; and horses in particular always show their blood in their shape, spirit, and swiftness; but a coxcomb may beget a philosopher, as a man of virtue may leave a worthless progeny."  It is not uninstructive to observe how strongly the philosophy of the remark is borne out by the facts of Hume's own History.  The mean, pusillanimous, foolish John was the son of the wise, dauntless Henry the Second, and the brother of the magnanimous Richard Cœur de Lion.  His immediate descendant and successor, nearly as weak, though somewhat more honest than himself, was the father of the fearless, politic, unscrupulous Edward the First; and he of the imbecile Edward the Second; and he in turn, of the brave, sagacious Edward the Third; and then comes one of those cases which the phrenologist picks out from the general mass, and threads together, as with a string: the heroic Edward the Third was the father of the heroic Black Prince.  And thus the record runs on, bearing from beginning to end the same character; save that as common men are vastly less rare, as the words imply, than uncommon ones, it is inevitable that instances of the ordinary producing should greatly predominate over instances of an opposite cast.  We see, however, a brutal Henry the Eighth succeeded by his son, a just and gentle Edward the Sixth; and him by his bigoted, weak-minded sister, the bloody Mary; and her by his other sister, the shrewd, politic Elizabeth.  But in no history is this independence of man's mental and moral nature of the animal laws of transmissions better shown than in the most ancient and authentic of all.  The two first brothers the world ever saw—children of the same father and mother—were persons of diametrically opposite characters; a similar diversity obtained in the families of Noah and of Jacob: the devout Eli was the father of profligate children; and Solomon, the wise son of a great monarch, a great warrior, and a great author—he who, according to Cowley, "from best of poets best of kings did grow"—had much unscrupulous coxcombry and mediocre commonplace among his brethren, and an ill-advised simpleton for his son.

    The story of the young Lyttelton—better known half a century ago than it is now—has not a few curious points about it.  He was one of three children, two of them girls, apostrophized by the bereaved poet in the Monody:


Sweet babes, who, like the little playful fawns,
Were wont to trip along these verdant lawns
        By your delightful mother's side,
        Who now your infant steps shall guide?
Ah! where is now the hand whose tender care
To every virtue would have formed your youth,
And strewed with flowers the thorny ways of truth!
        O loss beyond repair!
        O wretched father, left alone
To weep their dire misfortune and thy own!
How shall thy weakened mind oppressed with woe,
        And drooping o'er thy Lucy's grave,
Perform the duties that you doubly owe,
        Now she, alas! is gone,
From folly and from vice their helpless age to save!


One of the two female children died in infancy; the other lived to contract an advantageous and happy marriage with a very amiable nobleman, and to soothe the dying bed of her father.  The boy gave early promise of fine parts and an energetic disposition.  He learned almost in childhood to appreciate Milton, mastered his tasks with scarce an effort, spoke and wrote with fluent elegance, and was singularly happy in repartee.  It was early seen, however, that his nature was based on a substratum of profound selfishness, and that an uneasy vanity rendered him intensely jealous of all in immediate contact with him, whose claims to admiration or respect he regarded as overtopping his own.  All of whom he was jealous it was his disposition to dislike and oppose: his insane envy made war upon them in behalf of self; and, unfortunately, it was his excellent father—a man possessed of one of the highest and most unsullied reputations of the day—whom he regarded as most his rival.  Had the first Lord Lyttleton been a worse man, the second Lord would possibly have been a better one; for in the moral and the religious—in all that related to the conduct of life and the government of the passions—he seemed to regard his father as a sort of reverse standard by which to regulate himself on a principle of contrariety.  The elder Lord had produced a treatise on the "Conversion of St. Paul," which continues to hold a prominent place among our works of evidence, and to which, says Johnson, "infidelity has never been able to fabricate a specious answer."  It was answered, however, after a sort, by a sceptical foreigner, Claude Annet, whose work the younger Lyttelton made it his business diligently to study, and which, as a piece of composition and argument, he professed greatly to prefer to his father's.  The older Lyttelton had written verses which gave him a place among the British poets, and which contain, as he himself has characterized those of Thomson—


Not one immoral, one corrupted thought—
One line which, dying, he could wish to blot.


The younger Lyttelton wrote verses also; but his, though not quite without merit, had to be banished society, like a leper freckled with infection, and they have since perished apart.  The elder Lyttelton wrote Dialogues of the Dead; so did the younger; but his dialogues were too blasphemously profane to be given, in a not very zealous age, to the public; and we can but predict their character from their names.  The speakers in one were, "King David and Cæsar Borgia;" and in another, "Socrates and Jesus Christ."  He gave a loose to his passions, till not a woman of reputation would dare be seen in his company, or permit him, when he waited on her—heir-apparent as he was to a fine estate and a fair title—to do more than leave his card.  His father, in the hope of awakening him to higher pursuits and a nobler ambition, exerted his influence in getting him returned to Parliament; and he made his début in a brilliant speech which greatly excited the hopes of the veteran senator and his friends, and was complimented in the House by the Opposition, as fraught with the "hereditary ability of the Lytteltons."  He subsequently lost his seat, however, in consequence of some irregularities connected with his election, and returned full swing to the gratification of the grosser propensities of his nature.  At length, when shunned by high and low, even in the neighbourhood of Hagley, he was sent to hide his disgrace in an obscure retreat on the Continent.

    Meanwhile, the elder Lyttelton was fast breaking up.  There was nothing in the nature of his illness, says his physician, in an interesting account of his last moments, to alarm the fears of his friends; but there is a malady of the affections darkly hinted at in the narrative, which had broken his rest and prostrated his strength, and which medicine could not reach.  It is sad enough to reflect that he himself had been one of the best of sons.  The letter is still extant which his agèd father addressed to him on the publication of his treatise on the "Conversion of St. Paul."  After some judicious commendation of the cogency of the arguments and the excellence of the style, the old man goes on to say, "May the King of kings, whose glorious cause you have so well defended, reward your pious labours, and grant that I may be found worthy, through the merits of Jesus Christ, to be an eye-witness of that happiness which I doubt not He will bountifully bestow upon you.  In the meantime, I shall never cease glorifying God for having endowed you with such useful talents, and giving me so good a son."  And here was the son, in whose behalf this affecting prayer had been breathed, dying broken-hearted, a victim to paternal solicitude and sorrow!  But did the history of the species furnish us with no such instances, we should possess one argument fewer than in the existing state of things, for a scheme of final retribution, through which every unredressed wrong shall be righted, and every unsettled account receive its appropriate adjustment.  Junius, a writer who never praised willingly, had just decided, with reference to his Lordship's long political career, that "the integrity and judgment of Lord Lyttelton were unquestionable;" but the subject of the eulogy was passing to the tribunal of a higher Judge.  His hopes of immortality rested solely on the revealed basis; and yet it did yield him cause of gratitude on his deathbed, that he had been enabled throughout the probationary course, now at its close, to maintain the character of an honest man.  "In politics and in public life," he said to his physician, shortly ere his departure, "I have made public good the rule of my conduct.  I never gave counsels which I did not at the time think the best.  I have seen that I was sometimes in the wrong; but I did not err designedly.  I have endeavoured in private life to do all the good in my power; and never for a moment could indulge malicious or unjust designs against any person whatsoever."  And so the first Lord Lyttelton slept with his fathers; and Thomas, the second Lord, succeeded him.

    He soon attained, in his hereditary seat in the Upper House, to no small consequence as a Parliamentary speaker; and the Ministry of the day—the same that lost the colonies to Britain—found it of importance he should be conciliated.  His father had long desired, but never could obtain, the Government appointment of Chief Justice in Eyre.  It was known there was nothing to be gained by conferring a favour of the kind on the first Lord Lyttelton: he would have voted and spoken after exactly the same manner, whether he got the appointment or no.  But the second Lord was deemed a man of a different stamp; and the place which the father, after his honest services of forty years, had longed for in vain, the son, in the infancy of his peerage, ere he had performed a single service of any kind, received unsolicited.  The gift had its effect; and many of his after votes were recorded on the side of Ministers, against Chatham and the Americans.  No party, however, could calculate very surely on his support: he was frequently drawn aside by some eccentric impulse; and frequently hit right and left in mere wantonness, without caring whether the stroke fell on friend or foe.  There were, meanwhile, sad doings at Hagley.  In "his father's decent hall," to employ the language of Childe Harold,


                                  condemned to uses vile,
Now Paphian girls were known to sing and smile.


He had been married to a lady, of whom nothing worse has ever been said than that she accepted his hand.  Her, however, he had early deserted.  But the road he had taken, with all its downward ease and breadth, is not the road which leads to happiness; and enough survives of his private history to show that he was a very miserable man.


And none did love him: though to hall and bower
He gathered revellers from far and near,
He knew them flatterers of the festal hour,
The heartless parasites of present cheer;
Yea, none did love him—not his lemans dear.


    He seems to have been strongly marked by the peculiar heartlessness so generally found to co-exist with the gratuitous and flashy generosity of men of grossly licentious lives; that petrifaction of feeling to which Burns and Byron—both of them unfortunately but too well qualified to decide on the subject—so pointedly refer.  But he could feel remorse, however incapable of pity, and remorse heightened—notwithstanding an ostentatious scepticism—by the direst terrors of superstition.  Among the females who had been the objects of his temporary attachment, and had fallen victims to it, there was a Mrs. Dawson, whose fortune, with her honour and reputation, had been sacrificed to her passion, and who, on being deserted by his Lordship for another, did not long survive; she died broken-hearted, bankrupt both in means and character.  But though she perished without friend, she was yet fully avenged on the seducer.  Ever after, he believed himself haunted by her spectre.  It would start up before him in the solitudes of Hagley at noonday—at night it flitted round his pillow—it followed him incessantly during his rustication on the Continent—and is said to have given him especial disturbance when passing a few days at Lyons.  In England, when residing for a short time with a brother nobleman, he burst at midnight into the room in which his host slept, and begged in great horror of mind, to be permitted to pass the night beside him; in his own apartment, he said he had been strangely annoyed by an unaccountable creaking of the floor.  He ultimately deserted Hagley, which he found by much too solitary, and in too close proximity with the parish burying-ground; and removed to a country-house near Epsom, called Pit Place, from its situation in an old chalk-pit.  And here, six years after the death of his father, the vital powers suddenly failed him, and he broke down and died in his thirty-sixth year.  There were circumstances connected with his death that form the strangest part of his story—circumstances which powerfully attracted public attention at the time, and which, as they tasked too severely the belief of an incredulous age, have been very variously accounted for.  We find Dr. Johnson, whose bias, however, did not incline him to the incredulous side, thus referring to them in one of the conversations recorded by Boswell.  "I mentioned," says the chronicler, "Thomas Lord Lyttelton's vision—the prediction of the time of his death, and its exact fulfilment."  JOHNSON—"It is the most extraordinary thing that has happened in my day: I heard it with my own ears from his uncle, Lord Westcote.  I am so glad to have evidence of the spiritual world that I am willing to believe it."  Dr. ADAMS—"You have evidence enough; good evidence, which needs not such support.  "JOHNSON—"I like to have more."

    This celebrated vision, long so familiar to the British public, that almost all the writers who touch on it, from Boswell to Sir Walter Scott inclusive, deal by the details as too well known to be repeated, is now getting pretty much out of sight.  I shall present the particulars, therefore, as I have been able to collect them from the somewhat varying authorities of the time. [7]  His Lordship, on Thursday, November 5th, 1779, had made the usual opening address to the Sovereign the occasion of a violent attack on the Administration; "but this," says Walpole, "was, notwithstanding his Government appointment, nothing new to him; he was apt to go point blank into all extremes, without any parenthesis or decency, nor even boggled at contradicting his own words."  In the evening he set out for his house at Epsom, carrying with him, says the same gossiping authority, "a caravan of nymphs."  He sat up rather late after his arrival; and, on retiring to bed, was suddenly awakened from brief slumber a little before midnight, by what appeared to be a dove, which, after fluttering for an instant near the bed curtains, glided towards a casement-window in the apartment, where it seemed to flutter for an instant longer, and then vanished.  At the same moment his eye fell upon a female figure in white standing at the bed-foot, in which he at once recognised, says Warner, "the spectre of the unfortunate lady that had haunted him so long."  It solemnly warned him to prepare for death, for that within three days he should be called to his final account; and, having delivered its message, immediately disappeared.  In the morning his Lordship seemed greatly discomposed, and complained of a violent headache.  "He had had an extraordinary dream," he said, "suited, did he possess even a particle of superstition, to make a deep impression on his mind;" and in afterwards communicating the particulars of the vision, he remarked, rather however in joke than earnest, that the warning was somewhat of the shortest, and that really after a course of life so disorderly as his, three days formed but a brief period for preparation.  On Saturday he began to recover his spirits, and told a lady of his acquaintance at Epsom that as it was now the third and last day, he would, if he escaped for but a few hours longer, fairly "jockey the ghost."  He became greatly depressed, however, as the evening wore on; and one of his companions, as the critical hour of midnight approached, set forward the house-clock, in the hope of dissipating his fears, by misleading him into the belief that he had entered on the fourth day, and was of course safe.  The hour of twelve accordingly struck; the company, who had sat with him till now, broke up immediately after, laughing at the prediction; and his Lordship retired to his bedroom apparently much relieved.  His valet, who had mixed up at his desire a dose of rhubarb, followed him a few minutes after, and he sat up in bed, in apparent health, to take the medicine; but being in want of a tea-spoon, he despatched the servant, with an expression of impatience, to bring him one.  The man was scarce a minute absent.  When he returned, however, his master was a corpse.  He had fallen backwards on the pillow, and his outstretched hand still grasped his watch, which exactly indicated the fatal hour of twelve.  It has been conjectured that his dissolution might have been an effect of the shock he received, on ascertaining that the dreaded hour had not yet gone by: at all events, explain the fact as we may, ere the fourth day had arrived, Lyttelton was dead.  It has been further related, as a curious coincidence, that on the night of his decease, one of his intimate acquaintance at Dartford, in Kent, dreamed that his Lordship appeared to him, and drawing back the curtain, said with an air of deep melancholy, "My dear friend, it is all over; you see me for the last time." [8]

    The story has been variously accounted for.  Some have held, as we learn from Sir Walter Scott in his "Demonology," that his Lordship, weary of life, and fond of notoriety, first invented the prediction, with its accompanying circumstances, and then destroyed himself to fulfil it.  And it is added, in a note furnished by a friend of Sir Walter's, that the whole incident has been much exaggerated.  "I heard Lord Fortescue once say," says the writer of the note, "that he was in the house with Lord Lyttelton at the time of the supposed visitation, and he mentioned the following circumstances as the only foundation for the extraordinary superstructure at which the world has wondered:—'A woman of the party had one day lost a favourite bird, and all the men tried to recover it for her.  Soon after, on assembling at breakfast, Lord Lyttelton complained of having passed a very bad night, and having been worried in his dreams by a repetition of the chase of the lady's bird.  His death followed, as stated in the story.' "  Certainly, had this been all, it would be scarce necessary to infer that his Lordship destroyed himself.  But the testimony of Lord Fortescue does not amount to more than simply that, at first, Lord Lyttelton told but a part of his dream; while the other evidence goes to show that he subsequently added the rest.  Nor does the theory of the premeditated suicide seem particularly happy.  If we must indeed hold that the agency of the unseen world never sensibly mingles with that of the seen and the tangible,


"To shame the doctrine of the Sadducee,"


we may at least deem it not very improbable that such a vision should have been conjured up by the dreaming fancy of an unhappy libertine, ill at ease in his conscience, sensible of sinking health, much addicted to superstitious fears, and who, shortly before, had been led, through a sudden and alarming indisposition, to think of death, Nor does it seem a thing beyond the bounds of credibility or coincidence, that in the course of the throe following days, when prostrated by his ill-concealed terrors, he should have experienced a second and severer attack of the illness from which, only a few weeks previous, he had with difficulty recovered. [9]

    I returned to Stourbridge, where I halted to get some refreshment, and wait the coach for Hales Owen, in an old-fashioned inn, with its overhanging gable of mingled beam and brick fronting the street, and its some six or seven rooms on the ground-floor, opening in succession into each other like the rattles of a snake's tail.  Three solid-looking Englishmen, two of them farmers evidently, the third a commercial traveller, had just sat down to a late dinner; and on the recommendation of the hostess, I drew in a chair and formed one of the party.  A fourth Englishman, much a coxcomb apparently, greatly excited, and armed with a whip, was pacing the floor of the room in which we sat: while in an outer room of somewhat inferior pretensions, there was another Englishman, also armed with a whip, and also pacing the floor; and the two, each from his own apartment, were prosecuting an angry and noisy dispute together.  The outer-room Englishman was a groom—the inner room Englishman deemed himself a gentleman.  They had both got at the races into the same gig, the property of the inn keeper, and quarrelled about who should drive.  The groom had argued his claim on the plea that he was the better driver of the two, and that driving along a crowded race-ground was difficult and dangerous: the coxcomb had insisted on driving because he liked to drive, and because, he said, he didn't choose to be driven in such a public place by a groom.  The groom retorted, that though a groom, he was as good a man as he was, for all his fine coat—perhaps a better man; and so the controversy went on, till the three solid Englishmen, worried at their meal by the incessant noise, interfered in behalf of the groom.  "Thou bee'st a foolish man," said one of the farmers to the coxcomb; "better to be driven by a groom than to wrangle with a groom."  "Foolish man!" iterated the other farmer, "thou's would have broken the groom's neck and thee's own."  "Ashamed," exclaimed the commercial gentleman, "to be driven by a groom at such a time as this—the groom a good driver too, and, for all that appears, an honest man!  I don't think any one should be ashamed to be driven by a groom; I know I wouldn't."  "The first un-English thing I have seen in England," said I: "I thought you English people were above littlenesses of that kind."  "Thank you, gentlemen, thank you," exclaimed the voice from the other room; "I was sure I was right.  He's a low fellow; I would box him for sixpence."  The coxcomb muttered something between his teeth, and stalked into the apartment beyond that in which we sat; the commercial gentleman thrust his tongue into his cheek as he disappeared; and we were left to enjoy our pudding in peace.  It was late and long this evening ere the six o'clock coach started for Hales Owen.  At length, a little after eight, when the night had fairly set in, and crowds on crowds had come pouring into the town from the distant race-ground, away it rumbled, stuck over with a double fare of passengers, jammed on before and behind, and occupying to the full every square foot a-top.

    Though sorely be-elbowed and be-kneed, we had a jovial ride.  England was merry England this evening in the neighbourhood of Stourbridge.  We passed cart, and waggon, and gig, parties afoot and parties on horseback; and there was a free interchange of jibe and joke, hail and halloo.  There seemed to be more hearty mirth and less intemperance afloat than I have seen in Scotland on such occasions; but the whole appeared just foolish enough notwithstanding; and a knot of low blackguard gamblers, who were stuck together on the coach front, and conversing with desperate profanity on who they did and by whom they were done, showed me that to the foolish there was added not a little of the bad.  The Hales Owen road runs for the greater part of the way within the southern edge of the Dudley coal-field, and, lying high, commands a downward view of its multitudinous workings for many miles.  It presented from the coach-top this evening a greatly more magnificent prospect than by day.  The dark space—a nether firmament, for its grey wasteful desolation had disappeared with the vanished daylight—was spangled bright by innumerable furnaces, twinkling and star-like in the distance, but flaring like comets in the foreground.  We could hear the roaring of the nearer fires; here a tall chimney or massy engine peered doubtfully out, in dusky umber, from amid the blackness; while the heavens above glowed in the reflected light, a blood red.  It was near ten o'clock ere I reached the inn at Hales Owen; and the room into which I was shown received, for more than an hour after, continual relays of guests from the races, who turned in for a few minutes to drink gin and water, and then took the road again.  They were full of their backings and their bets, and animated by a life-and-death eagerness to demonstrate how Sir John's gelding had distanced my Lord's mare.


 
CHAPTER VIII.


Abbotsford and the Leasowes—The one place naturally suggestive of the other—Shenstone—The Leasowes his most elaborate composition—The English squire and his mill—Hales Owen Abbey; interesting, the subject of one of Shenstone's larger poems—The old anti-Popish feeling of England well exemplified by the fact—Its origin and history—Decline—Infidelity naturally favourable to the resuscitation and reproduction of Popery—The two naileresses—Cecilia and Delis—Skeleton description of the Leasowes—Poetic filling up—The spinster—The fountain.



I HAD come to Hales Owen to visit the Leasowes, the patrimony which poor Shenstone converted into an exquisite poem, written on the green face of nature, with groves and thickets, cascades and lakes, urns, temples, and hermitages, for the characters.  In passing southwards, I had seen from the coach-top the woods of Abbotsford, with the turrets of the mansion-house peeping over; and the idea of the trim-kept desolation of the place suggested to me that of the paradise which the poet of Hales Owen had, like Sir Walter, ruined himself to produce, that it, too, might become a melancholy desert.  Nor was the association which linked Abbotsford to the Leasowes by any means arbitrary: the one place may be regarded as having in some degree arisen out of the other.  "It had been," says Sir Walter, in one of his prefaces, "an early wish of mine to connect myself with my mother earth, and prosecute those experiments by which a species of creative power is exercised over the face of nature.  I can trace, even to childhood, a pleasure derived from Dodsley's account of Shenstone's Leasowes; and I envied the poet much more for the pleasure of accomplishing the objects detailed in his friend's sketch of his grounds, than for the possession of pipe, crook, flock, and Phillis to boot."  Alas!


"Prudence singe to thoughtless bards in vain."


In contemplating the course of Shenstone, Sir Walter could see but the pleasures of the voyage, without taking note of the shipwreck in which it terminated; and so, in pursuing identically the same track, he struck on identically the same shoal.

    I had been intimate from a very immature period with the writings of Shenstone.  There are poets that require to be known early in life, if one would know them at all to advantage.  They give real pleasure, but it is a pleasure which the mind outgrows; they belong to the "comfit and confectionary-plum" class; and Shenstone is decidedly one of the number.  No mind ever outgrew the "Task," or the "Paradise Lost," or the dramas of Shakspere, or the poems of Burns; they please in early youth; like the nature which they embody and portray, they continue to please in age.  But the Langhorns, Wartons, Kirke Whites, Shelleys, Keatses—shall I venture to say it?—Byrons, are flowers of the spring, and bear to the sobered eye, if one misses acquainting one's-self with them at the proper season, very much the aspect of those herbarium specimens of the botanist, which we may examine as matters of curiosity, but scarce contemplate—as we do the fresh uncropped flowers, with all their exquisite tints and delicious odours vital within them—as the objects of an affectionate regard.  Shenstone was one of the ten or twelve English poets whose works I had the happiness of possessing when a boy, and which, during some eight or ten years of my life—for books at the time formed luxuries of difficult procurement, and I had to make the most of those I had—I used to read over and over at the rate of about twice in the twelvemonth.  And every time I read the poems, I was sure also to read Dodsley's appended description of the Leasowes.  I could never form from it any idea of the place as a whole: the imagery seemed broken up into detached slips, like the imagery of a magic lantern; but then nothing could be finer than the insulated slips; and my mind was filled with gorgeous pictures, all fresh and bright, of "sloping groves," "tufted knolls," "wooded valleys," "sequestered lakes," and "noisy rivulets"—of rich grassy lawns, and cascades that come bursting in foam from bosky hill-sides—of monumental urns, tablets, and temples—of hermitages and priories; and I had now come to see in what degree my conceptions, drawn from the description, corresponded with the original, if, indeed, the original still maintained the impress given it by the genius of Shenstone.  His writings, like almost all poetic writings that do not please equally at sixteen and sixty, had stood their testing century but indifferently well.  No one at least would now venture to speak of him as the "celebrated poet, whose divine elegies do honour to our nation, our language, and our species;" though such, sixty years ago, was the estimate of Burns, when engaged in writing his preface to an uncouth volume of poems first published at Kilmarnock, that promise to get over their century with much greater ease.  On the "Leasowes"—by far the most elaborate of all the compositions of its author—the ingenious thinking of full twenty years had been condensed; and I was eager to ascertain whether it had not stood its testing century better under the skyey influences, than "Ophelia's Urn," or "the Song of Colin, a discerning Shepherd," under those corresponding influences of the literary heavens which freshen and preserve whatever has life in it, and wear down and dilapidate whatever is dead.

    A little after ten o'clock, a gentleman, who travelled in his own carriage, entered the inn—a frank, genial Englishman, who seemed to have a kind word for every one, and whom the inn-people addressed as the Squire.  My Scotch tongue revealed my country; and a few questions on the part of the Squire, about Scotland and Scotch matters, fairly launched us into conversation.  I had come to Hales Owen to see the Leasowes, I said: when a very young man, I used to dream about them full five hundred miles away, among the rocks and hills of the wild north; and I had now availed myself of my first opportunity of paying them a visit.  The Squire, as he in turn informed me, had taken the inn in his way to rusticate for a few days at a small property of his in the immediate neighbourhood of the Leasowes; and if I but called on him on the morrow at his temporary dwelling—Squire Eyland's Mill—all the better if I came to breakfast—he would, he said, fairly enter me on the grounds, and introduce me, as we went, to the old ecclesiastical building which forms the subject of one of Shenstone's larger poems, "The Ruined Abbey."  He knew all the localities—which one acquainted with but the old classic descriptions would now find it difficult to realize, for the place had fallen into a state of sad dilapidation—and often acted the part of cicerone to his friends.  I had never met with anything half so frank in Scotland from the class who travel in their own carriages; and, waiving but the breakfast, I was next morning at the Mill—a quiet, rustic dwelling, at the side of a green lane—a little before ten.  It lies at the bottom of a flat valley, with a small stream, lined by many a rich meadow, stealing between its fringes of willows and alders; and with the Leasowes on the one hand, and the Clent Hills, little more than an hour's walk away, on the other, it must form, in the season of green fields and clear skies, a delightful retreat.

    The Squire led me through the valley adown the course of the stream for nearly a mile, and then holding to the right for nearly a quarter of a mile more, we came full upon the ruins of Hales Owen Abbey.  The mace of the bluff Harry had fallen heavy upon the pile: it had proved, in after times, a convenient quarry for the neighbouring farm-houses, and the repair of roads and fences for miles around; and so it now consists of but a few picturesque fragments cut apart by wide gaps, in which we fail to trace even the foundations—fragments that rise insulated and tall—here wrapt up in ivy—there bristling with wallflower—over hay ricks, and antique farm offices, and moss-grown fruit trees, and all those nameless appurtenances which a Dutchman would delight to paint, of a long established barn-yard, farm-house, and orchard.  I saw, resting against one of the walls, the rudely-carved lid of a stone coffin, which exhibits in a lower corner a squat figure in the attitude of adoration; and along the opposite side and upper corner, an uncouth representation of the crucifixion, in which the figure on the cross seems that of a gaunt ill-proportioned skeleton.  Covered over, however, with the lichens of ages, and garnished with a light border of ground ivy—a plant which greatly abounds amid the ruins—its antique mis-proportions seem quite truthful enough, and impress more than elegance.  One tall gable, that of the chancel, which forms the loftiest part of the pile, still remains nearly entire; and its great window, once emblazoned with the arms of old Judge Lyttelton, but now stripped of stained glass and carved mullion, is richly festooned with ivy.  A wooden pigeon-house has been stuck up in the opening, and half-a-dozen white pigeons were fluttering in the sunshine this morning, round the ivied gable-top.  The dust of the old learned lawyer lies under the hay-ricks below, with that of nameless warriors and forgotten churchmen; and when the spade turns up the soil, fragments of human bones are found, thickly mingled with bits of painted tiles and stained glass.

    It may be thought I am but wasting words in describing so broken a ruin, seeing I must have passed many finer ones undescribed; but it will, I trust, be taken into account that I had perused the "Ruined Abbey" at least twice every twelvemonth, from my twelfth to my twentieth year, and that I had now before me the original of the picture.  The poem is not a particularly fine one.  Shenstone's thinking required rhyme, just as Pope's weakly person needed stays, to keep it tolerably erect; and the "Ruined Abbey" is in blank verse.  There is poetry, however, in some of the conceptions, such as that of the peasant, in the days of John, returning listless from his fields after the Pope had pronounced his dire anathema, and seeing in every dark overbellying cloud


A vengeful angel, in whose waving scroll
He read damnation.


Nor is the following passage—descriptive of the same gloomy reason of terror and deprivation—though perhaps inferior in elegance and effect to the parallel passage in the prose of Hume, without merit:—


The wretch—whose hope, by stern oppression chased
From every earthly bliss, still as it saw
Triumphant wrong, took wing and flew to heaven,
And rested there—now mourned his refuge lost,
And wonted peace.   The sacred fane was barred;
And the lone altar, where the mourners thronged
To supplicate remission, smoked no more;
While the green weed luxuriant rose around.
Some from their deathbed, in delirious woe,
Beheld the ghastly king approach, begirt
In tenfold terrors, or, expiring, heard
The last loud clarion sound, and heaven's decree
With unremitting vengeance bar the skies.
Nor light the grief—by Superstition weighed—
That their dishonoured corse, shut from the verge
Of hallowed earth or tutelary fane,
Must sleep with brutes, their vassals, in the field,
Beneath some path in marle unexorcised.


    The chief interest of the poem, however, does not lie in its poetry.  It forms one of the most curious illustrations I know of the strong anti-Popish zeal, apart from religious feeling, which was so general in England during the last century, and which, in the Lord-George-Gordon mobs, showed itself so very formidable a principle when fairly aroused.  Dickens's picture in "Barnaby Rudge," of the riots of 1780, has the merit of being faithful;—his religious mobs are chiefly remarkable for being mobs in which there is no religion; but his picture would be more faithful still had he made them in a slight degree Protestant.  Shenstone, like the Lord-George-Gordon mob, was palpably devoid of religion—"an elegant heathen, rather than a Christian," whose poetry contains verses in praise of almost every god except the true one; and who, when peopling his Elysium with half the deities of Olympus, saw nymphs and satyrs in his very dreams.  But though only an indifferent Christian, he was an excellent Protestant.  There are passages in the "Ruined Abbey" that breathe the very spirit of the English soldiery, whose anti-Popish huzzas, on the eve of the Revolution, deafened their infatuated monarch in his tent.  Take, for instance, the following:—


Hard was our fate while Rome's director taught
Of subjects born to be their monarch's prey;
To toil for monks—for gluttony to toil—
For vacant gluttony, extortion, fraud,
For avarice, envy, pride, revenge, and shame!
Oh, doctrine breathed from Stygian caves! exhaled
From inmost Erebus!


Not less decided is the passage in which he triumphs over the suppression of the Monasteries, "by Tudor's wild caprice."


Then from its towering height, with horrid sound,
Rushed the proud Abbey.   Then the vaulted roofs,
Torn from their walls, disclosed the wanton scene
Of monkish chastity!   Each angry friar
Crawled from his bedded strumpet, muttering low
An ineffectual curse.   The pervious nooks,
That ages past conveyed the guileful priest
To play some image on the gaping crowd,
Imbibe the novel daylight, and expose
Obvious the fraudful engin'ry of Rome.


Even with all his fine taste, and high appreciation, for the purposes of the landscape gardener, of bona fide pieces of antiquity, rich in association, it is questionable, from the following passage, whether his anti-Popish antipathies would not have led him to join our Scotch iconoclasts in their stern work of dilapidation.


Henceforth was plied the long-continued task
Of righteous havock, covering distant fields
With the wrought remnants of the shattered pile;
Till recent, through the land, the pilgrim sees
Rich tracts of brighter green, and in the midst
Grey mouldering walls, with nodding ivy crowned,
Or Gothic turret, pride of ancient days,
Now but of use to grace a rural scene,
To bound our vistas, and to glad the sons
Of George's reign, reserved for fairer times


    In "The Schoolmistress," the most finished and pleasing of Shenstone's longer poems, we find one of the sources of the feeling somewhat unwittingly exhibited.  "Shenstone learned to read," says Johnson, in his biography, "of an old dame, whom his poem of 'The Schoolmistress' has delivered to posterity."  "The house of my old school-dame, Sarah Lloyd," we find the poet himself saying, in one of his earlier letters (1741), "is to be seen as thou travellest towards the native home of thy faithful servant.  But she sleeps with her fathers, and is buried with her fathers; and Thomas her son reigneth in her stead."  Of the good Sarah Lloyd we learn from the poem—a piece of information suited to show how shrewd a part Puseyism is acting in possessing itself of the humbler schools of the country—that


She was just, and friend to virtuous lore,
And passed much time in truly virtuous deed,
And in her elfins' ears would oft deplore
The times when truth by Popish rage did bleed,
And tort'rous death was true devotion's meed,
And simple Faith in iron chains did mourn,
That nould on wooden image place her creed,
And lawny saints in smouldering flames did burn:

Oh, dearest Lord, forfend thilk days should ere return!


    The anti-Popish feeling of England which existed, as in Shenstone, almost wholly apart from doctrinal considerations, seems to have experienced no diminution till after the suppression of the rebellion of 1745.  A long series of historic events had served first to originate, and then to fill with it to saturation every recess of the popular mind.  The horrors of the Marian persecution, rendered patent to all by the popular narratives of Fox—the Invincible Armada and its thumb-screws—the diabolical plot of the time of James—the Irish Massacre of the following reign—the fierce atrocities of Jeffreys in the Monmouth rising, intimately associated in the Protestant mind of the country with the Popery of his master—the imprisonment of the bishops—and the influence of the anti-Romish teaching of the English Church after the Revolution, with the dread, for many years, of a Popish Pretender—had all united to originate and develop the sentiment which, in its abstract character, we find so adequately represented in Shenstone.  Much about the time of the poet's death, however, a decided reaction began to take place.  The Pretender died; the Whigs originated their scheme of Roman Catholic Emancipation; atheistic violence had been let loose on the clergy of France, not in their character as Popish, but in their character as Christian; and both the genius of Burke and the piety of Hall had appealed to the Protestant sympathies of England in their behalf.  The singularly anomalous position and palpable inefficiency of the Irish Establishment had created a very general diversion in favour of the Popish majority of Ireland; the Voluntary controversy united Evangelistic Dissent and Roman Catholicism by the bonds of a common cause—at least Evangelistic Dissent was fond enough to believe the cause a common one, and learned to speak with respect and regard of "Roman Catholic brethren;" the spread of Puseyism in the English Establishment united, by sympathies of a different but not weaker kind, the Papist and the High Churchman; the old anti-Popish feeling has been gradually sinking under the influence of so many reactive causes, and not since the times of the Reformation was at so low an ebb as in England at the present day.  It would seem as if every old score was to be blotted off, and Popery to be taken a second time on trial.  But it will ultimately be found wanting, and will, as in France and Germany, have just to be condemned again.  The stiff rigidity of its unalterable codes of practice and belief—inadequately compensated by the flexibility of its wilier votaries—has incapacitated it from keeping up with the human mind in its onward march.  If it be the sure destiny of man to it must be the as inevitable fate of Popery to sink.  The excesses of fifteen hundred years have vitiated and undermined its constitution, intellectual and moral; its absurder beliefs have become incompatible with advanced knowledge—its more despotic assumptions with rational freedom; and were it not for the craving vacuum in the public mind which infidelity is continually creating for superstition to fill, and into which Popery is fitfully rushing, like steam into the condenser of an engine, again and again to be annihilated, and again and again to flow in, its day, in at least the more enlightened portions of the empire, would not be long.

    There seems to be a considerable resemblance at bottom between the old English feeling exemplified in Shenstone, and that which at present animates the Ronge movement in Germany.  We find the English poet exclaiming,


Hail, honoured Wycliffe, enterprising sage!
An Epicurus in the cause of truth!!


And the continental priest—occupying at best but a half-way position between Luther and Voltaire, and who can remark in his preachings that " if Roman Catholics have a Pope at Rome, the Protestants have made their Pope of a book, and that that book is but a dead letter"—apostrophizes in a similar spirit the old German Reformers. I can, however, see nothing inconsis tent in the zeal of such men. It does not greatly require the aid of religion to enable one to decide that exhibitions such as that of the holy coat of Trèves are dishonest and absurd, or to warm with indignation at the intolerance that would make one's liberty or life pay the penalty of one's freedom of opinion. Shenstone, notwithstanding his indifference to the theological, was quite religious enough to have been sabred or shot had he been at Paris on the eve of St. Bartholomew, or knocked on the head if in Ulster at the time of the Irish massacre. What, apart from religious considerations, is chiefly to be censured and regretted in the zeal of the Rouges and Shenstones, Michelets, and Eugène Sues, is, not that it is inconsistent, but that it constitutes at best but a vacuum-creating power. It forms a void where, in the nature of things, no void can permanently exist, and which superstition is ever rushing in to fill; and so the progress of the race, wherever it is influentially operative, instead of being conducted onwards in its proper line of march, becomes a weary cycle, that ever returns upon itself. The human intellect, under its influence, seems as if drawn within the ceaselessly-revolving eddies of a giddy maelstrom, or as if it had become obnoxious to the remarkable curse pronounced of old by the Psalmist—I quote from the version of Milton—


My God! oh, make them as a wheel;
    No quiet let them find;
Giddy and restless let them reel
    Like stubble from the wind.


History is emphatic on the point.  Nearly three centuries have elapsed since the revived Christianity of the Reformation supplanted Roman Catholicism in Scotland.  But there was no vacuum created; the space previously taken up in the popular mind by the abrogated superstition was amply occupied by the resuscitated faith; and, as a direct consequence, whatever reaction in favour of Popery may have taken place among the people is of a purely political, not religious character.  With Popery as a religion, the Presbyterian Scotch are as far from closing now as they ever were.  But how entirely different has been the state of matters in France!  There are men still living who remember the death of Voltaire.  In the course of a single lifetime, Popery has been twice popular and influential in that country, and twice has the vacuum-creating power, more than equally popular and influential for the time, closed chill and cold around it, to induce its annihilation.  The literature of France for the last half-century is curiously illustrative of this process of action and reaction—of condensation and expansion.  It exhibits during that period three distinct groups of authors.  There is a first group of vacuum-creators—a surviving remnant of the Encyclopedists of the previous half-century—adequately represented by Condorcet and the Abbé Raynal; next appears a group of the reactionists, represented equally well by Chateaubriand and Lamartine; and then—for Popery has again become monstrous—we see a second group of vacuum-creators in the Eugène Sues and Michelets, the most popular French writers of the present day.  And thus must the cycle revolve, "unquiet and giddy as a wheel," until France shall find rest in the Christianity of the New Testament.

    I spent so much time among the ruins, that my courteous conductor, the Squire, who had business elsewhere to attend to, had to leave me, after first, however, setting me on my way to the Leasowes, and kindly requesting me to make use of his name, if the person who farmed the grounds demurred, as sometimes happened with strangers, to give me admission to them.  I struck up the hill, crossed a canal that runs along its side, got into a cross road between sheltered belts of planting, and then, with the Leasowes full in front, stopped at a small nailery, to ask at what point I might most easily gain access to them.  The sole workers in the nailery were two fresh-coloured, good-looking young girls, whose agile, well-turned arms were plying the hammer with a rapidity that almost eluded the eye, and sent the quick glancing sparks around them in showers.  Both stopped short in their work, and came to the door to point out what they deemed the most accessible track.  There was no gate, they said, in this direction, but I would find many gaps in the fence: they were in doubt, however, whether the people at the "white house" would give me leave to walk over the grounds: certainly the nailer lads were frequently refused; and they were sorry they couldn't do anything for me: I would be sure of permission if they could give it me.  At all events, said I, I shall take the longest possible road to the white house, and see a good deal of the grounds ere I meet with the refusal.  Both the naileresses laughed; and one of them said she had always heard the Scotch were "long-headed."  Hales Owen and its precincts are included in the great iron district of Birmingham; and the special branch of the iron trade which falls to the share of the people is the manufacture of nails.  The suburbs of the town are formed chiefly of rows of little brick houses, with a nail-shop in each; and the quick, smart patter of hammers sounds incessantly, in one encircling girdle of din, from early morning till late night.  As I passed through, on my way to the Squire's Mill, I saw whole families at work together—father, mother, sons, and daughters; and met in the street young girls, not at all untidily dressed, considering the character of their vocation, trundling barrowfuls of coal to their forges, or carrying on their shoulders bundles of rod-iron.  Of all our poets of the last century, there was scarce one so addicted to the use of those classic nicknames which impart so unreal an air to English poetry, when bestowed on English men and women, as poor Shenstone.  We find his verses dusted over with Delias, and Cecilias, and Ophelias, Flavias, and Fulvias, Chloes, Daphnes, and Phillises; and, as if to give them the necessary prominence, the printer, in all the older editions, has relieved them from the surrounding text by the employment of staring capitals.  I had read Shenstone early enough to wonder what sort of looking people his Delias and Cecilias were; and now, ere plunging into the richly-wooded Leasowes, I had got hold of the right idea.  The two young naileresses were really very pretty.  Cecilia, a ruddy blonde, was fabricating tackets; and Delia, a bright-eyed brunette, engaged in heading a double-double.

    Ere entering on the grounds, however, I must attempt doing what Dodsley has failed to do—I must try whether I cannot give the reader some idea of the Leasowes as a whole, in their relation to the surrounding country.  Let us, then, once more return to the three Silurian eminences that rise island-like from the basin of the Dudley coal-field, and the parallel line of trap hills that stretches away amid the New Red Sandstone.  I have described the lines as parallel, but, like the outstretched sides of a parallel-ruler, not opposite.  There joins on, however, to the Silurian line—like a prolongation of one of the right lines of the mathematician indicated by dots—an extension of the chain, not Silurian, which consists of eminences of a flatter and humbler character than either the Wren's Nest or the Castlehill, and which runs opposite to the trap chain for several miles.  One of these supplementary eminences—the one adjoining the Castle-hill—is composed of the trap to which the entire line owes its elevation; and a tall, cairn-like group of apparent boulders, that seem as if they had been piled up by giants, but are mere components of a partially disintegrated projection from the rock below, occupies its summit.  In the flat hill directly beyond it, though the trap does not appear, it has tilted up the Lower Coal Measures, amid the surrounding New Red Sandstone, saddlewise on its back; the strata shelve downwards on both sides from the anticlinal line a-top, like the opposite sides of a roof from the ridge; and the entire hill, to use a still humbler illustration, resembles a huge blister in new plaster formed by the expansion of some fragment of unslaked lime in the ground-coating beneath.  Now, it is with this hill of the Lower Coal Measures—this huge blister of millstone grit—that we have chiefly to do.

    Let the reader imagine it of soft swelling outline, and ample base, with the singularly picturesque trap range full in front, some four miles away, and a fair rural valley lying between. Let him further imagine the side of the hill furrowed by a transverse valley, opening at right angles into the great front valley, and separating atop into two forks, or branches, that run up, shallowing as they go, to near the hill-top. Let him, in short, imagine this great valley a broad right line, and the transverse forked valley a gigantic letter Y resting on it. And this forked valley on the hill-side—this gigantic letter Y—is the Leasowes. The picturesqueness of such a position can be easily appreciated. The forked valley, from head to gorge, is a reclining valley, partaking along its bottom of the slope of the eminence on which it lies, and thus possessing, what is by no means Common among the valleys of England, true downhill water-courses, along which the gathered waters may leap in a chain of cascades ; and commanding, in its upper recesses, though embraced and sheltered on every side by the surrounding hill, extending prospects of the country below. It thus combines the scenic advantages of both hollow and rising ground, -the quiet seclusion of the one, and the expansive landscapes of the other. The broad valley into which it opens is rich and well wooded. Just in front of the opening we see a fine sheet of water, about twenty acres in extent, the work of the monks ; immediately to the right stand the ruins of the Abbey; immediately to the left, the pretty compact town of Hales Owen lies grouped around its fine old church and spire ; a range of green swelling eminences rises beyond; beyond these, fainter in the distance, and considerably bolder in the outline, ascends the loftier range of the trap hills—one of the number roughened by the tufted woods, and crowned by the obelisk at Hagley ; and, over all, blue and shadowy on the far horizon, sweeps the undulating line of the mountains of Cambria. Such is the character of the grounds which poor Shenstone set himself to convert into an earthly paradise, and such the outline of the surrounding landscape. But to my hard anatomy of the scene I must add the poet's own elegant filling up:—


Romantic scenes of pendent hills,
And verdant vales and falling rills,
And mossy banks the fields adorn, where
Damon, simple swain, was born,
The Dryads reared a shady grove,
Where such as think, and such as love,
Might safely sigh their summer's day,
Or muse their silent hours away.
The Oreads liked the climate well,
And taught the level plains to swell
In verdant mounds, from whence the eye
Might all their larger works descry.
The Naiads poured their urns around
From nodding rocks, o'er vales profound;
They formed their streams to please the view,
And bade them wind as serpents do;
And having shown them where to stray,
Threw little pebbles in their way.


    I got ready permission at the house of the Leasowes—a modern building erected on the site of that in which Shenstone resided—to walk over the grounds; and striking upwards directly along the centre of the angular tongue of land which divides the two forks of the valley, I gained the top of the hill, purposing to descend to where the gorge opens below along the one fork, and to re-ascend along the other.  On the hill-top, a single field's breadth beyond the precincts of the Leasowes, I met a tall middle-aged female, whose complexion, much embrowned by the sun, betrayed the frequent worker in fields, and her stiff angularity of figure, the state of single blessedness, and "maiden meditation, fancy free," which Shakspere complimented in Elizabeth.  I greeted her with fair good day, and asked her whether the very fine grounds below were not the Leasowes? or, as I now learned to pronounce the word, Lisos—for when I gave it its long Scotch sound, no one in the neighbourhood seemed to know what place I meant.  "Ah, yes," said she, "the Lisos!—they were much thought of long ago, in Squire Shenstone's days; but they are all ruinated now; and, except on Sundays, when the nailer lads get into them, when they can, few people come their way.  Squire Shenstone was a poet," she added, "and died for love."  This was not quite the case: the Squire, who might have married his Phillis had he not been afraid to incur the expense of a wife, died of a putrid fever at the sober age of forty-nine; but there would have been little wit in substituting a worse for a better story, and so I received without challenge the information of the spinster.  In descending, I took the right-hand branch of the valley, which is considerably more extended than that to the left.  A low cliff, composed of the yellow gritty sandstone of the Lower Coal Measures, and much overhung by stunted alder and hazel bushes, stands near the head of the ravine, just where the Leasowes begin, and directly out of the middle of the cliff, some three or four feet from its base, there comes leaping to the light, as out of the smitten rock in the wilderness, a clear and copious spring—one of the "health-bestowing" fountains,


                      All bordered with moss,
Where the harebells and violets grew.


Alas! moss and harebells and violets were gone, with the path which had once led to the spot, and the seat which had once fronted it; the waters fell dead and dull into a quagmire, like young human life leaping out of unconscious darkness into misery, and then stole away through a boggy strip of rank grass and rushes, along a line of scraggy alders.  All was changed, save the full-volumed spring, and it,—


A thousand and a thousand years,
    'Twill flow as now it flows.


 
CHAPTER IX.


Detour—The Leasowes deteriorated wherever the poet had built, and improved wherever he had planted—View from the hanging wood—Stratagem of the island screen—Virgil's grave—Mound of the Hales Owen and Birmingham Canal; its sad interference with Shenstone's poetic description of the infancy of the Stour—Vanished cascade and root-house—Somerville's urn—"To all friends round the Wrekin"—River scenery of the Leasowes; their great variety—Peculiar arts of the poet; his vistas, when seen from the wrong end, realizations of Hogarth's caricature—Shenstone the greatest of landscape-gardeners—Estimate of Johnson—Goldsmith's history of the Leasowes; their after history.



THE water creeps downwards from where it leaps from the rock, to form a chain of artificial lakes, with which the bottom of the dell is occupied, and which are threaded by the watercourse, like a necklace of birds' eggs strung upon a cord.  Ere I struck down on the upper lake, however, I had to make a detour of a few hundred yards to the right, to see what Dodsley describes as one of the finest scenes furnished by the Leasowes—a steep terrace, commanding a noble prospect—a hanging wood—an undulating pathway over uneven ground, that rises and falls like a snake in motion—a monumental tablet—three rustic seats—and a temple dedicated to Pan.  The happy corner which the poet had thus stuck over with so much bravery is naturally a very pretty one.  The hill-side, so gentle in most of its slopes, descends for about eighty feet—nearly at right angles with the forked valley, and nearly parallel to the great valley in front—as if it were a giant wave on the eve of breaking; and it is on this steep rampart-like declivity—this giant wave—that the hanging wood was planted, the undulating path formed, and the seats and temple erected.  But all save the wood has either wholly vanished, or left behind but the faintest traces—traces so faint that, save for the plan of the grounds appended to the second edition of Dodsley's description, they would have told me no distinct story.

    Ere descending the rampart-like acclivity, but just as the ground begins gradually to rise, and when I should be passing, according to Dodsley, through the "Lover's Walk," a sequestered arboraceous lane, saddened by the urn of "poor Miss Dolman"—"by the side of which" there had flowed "a small bubbling rill, forming little peninsulas, rolling over pebbles, or falling down small cascades, all under cover, and taught to murmur very agreeably"—I found myself in a wild tangled jungle, with no path under foot, with the "bubbling rill" converted into a black lazy swamp, with thickets of bramble all around, through which I had to press my way, as I best could, breast-high—"poor Miss Dolman's" urn as fairly departed and invisible as "poor Miss Dolman;" in short, everything that had been done undone, and all in readiness for some second Shenstone to begin de novo.  As the way steepened, and the rank aquatic vegetation of the swamp, once a runnel, gave place to plants that affect a drier habitat, I could detect in the hollow of the hill some traces of the old path; but the place forms a receptacle into which the gusty winds sweep the shorn leafage of the hanging wood above, and so I had to stalk along the once trimly-kept walk, through a stratum of decayed leaves, half-leg deep.  In the middle of the hanging wood I found what had been once the temple of Pan.  There is a levelled space on the declivity, about half the size of an ordinary sitting parlour: the winds had swept it bare; and there, distinctly visible on three sides of the area, are the foundation of a thin brick wall, that, where least broken, rises some six or eight inches above the level.  A little further on, where the wood opens on one of the loveliest prospects I ever beheld, I found a decayed oak-post remaining, to indicate the locale of a seat that had once eulogized the landscape which it fronted in a classic Latin inscription.  But both seat and inscription are gone.  And yet maugre this desolation, not in the days of Shenstone did the Leasowes look so nobly from this elevation as they did this day.  I was forcibly reminded of one of the poet's own remarks, and the completeness of its realization:—"The works of a person that builds," he says, "begin immediately to decay; while those of him who plants begin directly to improve.  In this, planting promises a more lasting pleasure than building."  The trees of the Leasowes, when the Leasowes formed the home and furnished the employment of the poet, seem to have been mere saplings.  We find him thus writing to a friend in the summer of 1743:—"A malignant caterpillar has demolished the beauty of all our large oaks.  Mine are secured by their littleness.  But I guess Hagley Park suffers—a large wood near me being a winter-piece for nakedness."  More than a hundred years have since elapsed, and the saplings of a century ago have expanded into the dignity of full-grown treehood.  The hanging wood, composed chiefly of very noble beeches, with a sprinkling of graceful birches on its nether skirt, raises its crest so high as fully to double the height of the eminence which it crowns; while the oaks on the finely varied ground below, of imposing size, and exhibiting in their grouping the hand of the master, compose such a scene as the finest of the landscapes designed by Martin in illustration of Milton's "Paradise Lost."  The day was warm, calm, cloudless; the lights and shadows lay clear and transparent on lake and stream, dell and (tingle, green swelling lawn and tall forest-tree; and the hanging wood, and the mossy escarpment over which it hangs, were as musical in the bright sunshine, with the murmur of bees, as when, exactly a hundred and two years before, Shenstone was penning his pastoral ballad.

    Quitting, the hanging wood, I struck athwart the declivity, direct on the uppermost lake in the chain which I have described as lying, like a string of birds' eggs, along the bottom of the valley.  I found it of small extent—a pond or lochan, rather than a lake—darkly coloured—its still black surface partially embroidered by floats of aquatic plants, among which I could detect the broad leaves of the water lily, though the flowers were gone—and overhung on all sides by careless groups of trees, that here and there dip their branches in the water.  In one striking feature of the place we may still detect the skill of the artist.  There is a little island in the upper part of the lake, by much too small and too near the shore to have any particular interest as such; or, indeed, viewed from below, to seem an island at all.  It is covered by a thick clump of alders of low growth, just tall enough and thick enough to conceal, screen-like, the steep bank of the lake behind.  The top of the bank is occupied by several lofty oaks; and as the screen of alders hides the elevation on which they stand, they seem to rise direct from the level of the water to the giant stature of a hundred feet.  The giants of the theatre are made by setting one man on the shoulders of another, and then throwing over both a large cloak;—the giant trees here are made by setting them upon the shoulders of a hill, and making the thick island-screen serve the purpose of the concealing mantle.

    The second lake in the chain—a gloomier and smaller piece of water than the first, and much hidden in wood—has in its present state no beauty to recommend it; it is just such an inky pool, with rotten snags projecting from its sluggish surface, as a murderer would select for concealing the body of his victim.  A forlorn brick ruin, overflooded by the neighbouring streamlet, and capped with sickly ivy, stands at the upper end—at the lower, the waters escape by a noisy cascade into a secluded swampy hollow, overshadowed by stately oaks and ashes, much intermixed with trees of a lower growth—yew, holly, and hazel—and much festooned with ivy.  We find traces of an untrodden pathway on both sides the stream, with the remains of a small mouldering one-arched bridge, now never crossed over, and divested of both its parapets; and in the centre of a circular area, surrounded by trees of loftiest stature, we may see about twice as many bricks as an Irish labourer would trundle in a wheelbarrow, arranged in the form of a small square.  This swampy hollow is the "Virgil's Grove," so elaborately described by Dodsley, and which so often in the last age employed the pencil and the burine; and the two barrowfuls of brick are all that remain of the obelisk of Virgil.  I had run not a few narrow chances of the kind before; but I now fairly sunk half to the knees in the miry bottom, and then pressing onwards, as I best could,


Quenched in a boggy Syrtis, neither sea
Nor good dry land, nigh foundered, on I fared,
Treading the crude consistence half on foot,
Half flying.


till I reached a drier soil beside yet another lake in the chain, scarce less gloomy, and even more sequestered, than the last.  There stick out along its edges a few blackened stumps, on which several bushy clusters of fern have taken root, and which, overshadowed by the pendent fronds, seem so many small tree-ferns.  I marked here, for the first time, the glance of scales and the splash of fins in the water; but they belonged not to the "fishes of gold" sung by the poet, but to some half-dozen pike that I suppose have long since dealt by the fishes of gold as the bulkier contemporaries of the famous Jack the Giant-killer used to deal by their guests.  A further walk of a few hundred yards through the wooded hollow brought me to the angle where the forks of the dell unite and form one valley.  A considerable piece of water—by much the largest on the grounds—occupies the bottom of the broad hollow which they form by their union—the squat stem, to use a former illustration, of the letter Y; and a long narrow bay runs from the main body of the lake up each of the two forks, losing itself equally in both, as it contracts and narrows, amid the over-arching trees.

    There is a harmony of form as certainly as of sound—a music to the eye in the one, as surely as to the ear in the other had hitherto witnessed much dilapidation and decay, but it was dilapidation and decay on a small scale; I had seen merely the wrecks of a few artificial toys, scattered amid the sublime of nature; and there were no sensible jarrings in the silent concert of the graceful and the lovely, which the entire scene served to compose.  Here, however, all of a sudden, I was struck by a harsh discord.  Where the valley should have opened its noble gateway into the champaign—a gateway placed half-way between the extended magnificence of the expanse below, and the more closely concentrated beauties of the dells above—there stretches, from bank to bank, a stiff, lumpish, rectilinear mound, some seventy or eighty feet in height, by some two or three hundred yards in length, that bars out the landscape—deals, in short, by the wanderer along the lake or through the lower reaches of the dell, as some refractory land-steward deals by some hapless railway surveyor, when, squatting down full before him, he spreads out a broad extent of coat-tail, and eclipses the distant sight.  Poor Shenstone!—it would have broken his heart.  That unsightly mound conveys along its flat level line, straight as that of a ruler, the Birmingham and Hales Owen Canal.  Poor Shenstone once more!  With the peculiar art in which he excelled all men, he had so laid out his lakes, that the last in the series seemed to piece on to the great twenty-acre lake dug by the monks, and so to lose itself in the general landscape.  And in one of his letters we find him poetical on the course of the vagrant streams —those of his own grounds—that feed it.  "Their first appearance," he says, "well resembles the playfulness of infancy: they skip from side to side with a thousand antic motions, that answer no other purpose than the mere amusement of the proprietor.  They proceed for a few hundred yards, and then their severer labours begin, resembling the graver toils of manhood.  They set mills in motion, turn wheels, and ply hammers for manufactures of all kinds; and in this manner roll on under the name of the Stour, supplying works for casting, forging, and shaping iron for every civil and military purpose.  Perhaps you may not know that my rills are the principal sources of this river; or that it furnishes the propelling power to more ironworks than almost any other single river in the kingdom."  The dull mound now cuts off the sportive infancy of the Stour from its sorely-tasked term of useful riverhood.  There is so cruel a barrier raised between the two stages, that we fail to identify the hard-working stream below with the playful little runnels above.  The water comes bounding all obscurely out of the nether side of the mound, just as it begins its life of toil—a poor thing without a pedigree, like some hapless child of quality stolen by the gipsies, and sold to hard labour.

    Passing upwards along the opposite branch of the valley, I found a succession of the same sort of minute desolations as I had met in the branch already explored.  Shenstone's finest cascades lay in this direction; and very fine, judging from the description of Dodsley, they must have been.  "The eye is here presented," says the poetic bibliopole, "with a fairy vision, consisting of an irregular and romantic fall of water, one hundred and fifty yards in continuity; and a very striking and unusual scene it affords. Other cascades may have the advantage of a greater descent and a larger stream; but a more wild and romantic appearance of water, and at the same time strictly natural, is difficult to be met with anywhere.  The scene, though small, is yet aggrandized with so much art, that we forget the quantity of water which flows through this close and overshadowed valley, and are so much pleased with the intricacy of the scene, and the concealed height from whence it flows, that we, without reflection, add the idea of magnificence to that of beauty.  In short, it is only upon reflection that we find the stream is not a Niagara, but rather a waterfall in miniature; and that by the same artifice upon a larger scale, were there large trees in place of small ones, and a river instead of a rill, a scene so formed would exceed the utmost of our ideas."  Alas for the beautiful cascade!  Here still was the bosky valley, dark and solitary, with its long withdrawing bay from the lake speckled by the broad leaves of the water-lily; old gnarled stems of ivy wind, snake-like, round the same massy trunks along which they had been taught to climb in the days of the poet; but for the waterfall, the main feature of the scene, I saw only a long dark trench—much crusted by mosses and liverworts, and much overhung by wood—that furrows the side of the hill; and for the tasteful root-house, erected to catch all the beauties of the place, I found only a few scattered masses of brick, bound fast together by the integrity of the cementing lime, and half-buried in a brown stratum of decayed leaves.  A little further on, there lay across the runnel a huge monumental urn of red sandstone, with the base elevated and the neck depressed.  It dammed up enough of the little stream to form a reservoir at which an animal might drink, and the clayey soil around it was dibbled thick at the time by the tiny hoofs of sheep.  The fallen urn had been inscribed to the memory of Somerville the poet.

    This southern fork of the valley is considerably shorter than the northern one; and soon rising on the hill-side, I reached a circular clump of firs, from which the eye takes in the larger part of the grounds at a glance, with much of the surrounding country.  We may see the Wrekin full in front, at the distance of about thirty miles: and here, in the centre of the circular clump, there stood, says Dodsley, an octagonal seat, with a pedestal-like elevation in the middle, that served for a back, and on the top of which there was fixed a great punch-bowl, bearing as its appropriate inscription the old country toast, "To all friends round the Wrekin."  Seat and bowl have long since vanished, and we see but the circular clump.  At the foot of the hill there is a beautiful piece of water, narrow and long, and skirted by willows, with both its ends so hidden in wood, and made to wind so naturally, that instead of seeming what it is—merely a small pond—it seems one of the reaches of a fine river.  We detect, too, the skill of the poet in the appearance presented from this point by the chain of lakes in the opposite fork of the valley.  As seen through the carefully-disposed trees, they are no longer detached pieces of water, but the reaches of a great stream—a sweeping inflection, we may suppose, of the same placid river that we see winding through the willows, immediately at the hill-foot.  The Leasowes, whose collected waters would scarce turn a mill, exhibit, from this circular clump, their fine river scenery.  The background beyond rises into a magnificent pyramid of foliage, the apex of which is formed by the tall hanging wood on the steep acclivity, and which sweeps downwards on each side in graceful undulations, now rising, now falling, according to the various heights of the trees or the inequalities of the ground.  The angular space between the two forks of the valley occupies the foreground.  It sinks in its descent towards the apex—for the pyramid is of course an inverted one—from a scene of swelling acclivities, fringed with a winding belt of squat, broad-stemmed beeches, into a soft sloping lawn, in the centre of which, deeply embosomed in wood, rise the white walls of the mansion-house.  And such, as they at present exist, are the Leasowes—the singularly ingenious composition inscribed on an English hillside, which employed for twenty long years the taste and genius of Shenstone.  An eye accustomed to contemplate nature merely in the gross, and impressed but by vast magnitudes or by great multiplicity, might not find much to admire in at least the more secluded scenes—in landscapes a furlong or two in extent, and composed of merely a few trees, a few slopes, and a pond, or in gloomy little hollows, with interlacing branches high over-head, and mossy runnels below.  But to one not less accustomed to study the forms than to feel the magnitudes—who can see spirit and genius in even a vignette, beauty in the grouping of a clump, in the sweep of a knoll, in the convexity of a mossy bank, in the glitter of a half-hidden stream, or the blue gleam of a solitary lochan—one who can appreciate all in nature that the true landscape-painter admires and develops—will still find much to engage him amid the mingled woods and waters, sloping acclivities and hollow valleys, of the Leasowes.  I have not yet seen a piece of ground of equal extent that exhibits a tithe of its variety, or in which a few steps so completely alter a scene.  In a walk of half a mile, one might fill a whole portfolio with sketches, all fine and all various.

    It was chiefly in the minuter landscapes of the place that I missed the perished erections of the poet.  The want of some central point on which the attention might first concentrate, and then, as it were, let itself gradually out on the surrounding objects, served frequently to remind me of one of the poet's own remarks.  "A rural scene to me is never perfect," he says, "without the addition of some kind of building.  I have, however, known a scar of rock in great measure supplying the deficiency."  Has the reader observed how unwittingly Bewick seems to have stumbled on this canon, and how very frequently the scar of rock—somewhat a piece of mannerism, to be sure, but always fine, and always picturesquely overhung with foliage—is introduced as the great central object into his vignettes?  In nature's, too, the effect, when chance-embodied in sonic recluse scene, must have been often remarked.  I have seen a huge rock-like boulder, roughened by lichens, giving animation and cheerfulness to the wild solitude of a deep forest clearing; and a grey undressed obelisk, reared many centuries ago over the savage dead, imparting picturesqueness and interest to a brown sterile moor.

    With the poet's erections, every trace of his lesser ingenuities has disappeared from the landscape—his peculiar art, for instance, of distancing an object to aggrandize his space, or in contriving that the visitor should catch a picturesque glimpse of it just at the point where it looked best; and that then, losing sight of it, he should draw near by some hidden path, over which the eye had not previously travelled.  The artist, with his many-hued pigments at command, makes one object seem near and another distant, by giving to the one a deeper and to the other a fainter tinge of colour.  Shenstone, with a palette much less liberally furnished, was skilful enough to produce similar effects with his variously-tinted shrubs and trees.  He made the central object in his vista some temple or root-house, of a faint retiring colour; planted around it trees of a diminutive size and a "blanched fady hue," such as the "almond willow" and "silver osier;" then, after a blank space, he planted another group of a deeper tinge—trees of the average hue of the forest, such as the ash and the elm; and then, last of all, in the foreground, after another blank space, he laid down trees of deep-tinted foliage, such as the dark glossy holly, and the still darker yew.  To the aërial, too, he added the linear perspective.  He broadened his avenues in the foreground, and narrowed them as they receded; and the deception produced he describes—and we may well credit him, for he was not one of the easily satisfied—as very remarkable.  The distance seemed greatly to increase, and the grounds to broaden and extend.  We may judge from the nature of the device, of the good reason he had to be mortally wroth with members of the Lyttelton family, when, as Johnson tells us, they used to make a diversion in favour of Hagley, somewhat in danger of being eclipsed at the time, by bringing their visitors to look up his vistas from the wrong end.  The picture must have been set in a wofully false light, and turned head downwards to boot, when the distant willows waved in the foreground beside the dimly-tinted obelisk or portico, and the nearer yews and hollies rose stiff, dark, and diminutive, in an avenue that broadened as it receded, a half-dozen bowshots behind them.  Hogarth's famous caricature on the false perspective of his contemporary brethren of the easel, would in such a case be no caricature at all, but a truthful representation of one of Shenstone's vistas viewed from the wrong end.

    Some of the other arts of the poet are, however, as I have already had occasion to remark, still very obvious.  It was one of his canons, that "when an object had been once viewed from its proper point, the foot should never travel to it by the same path which the eye had travelled over before."  The visitor suddenly lost it, and then drew near obliquely.  We can still see that all his pathways, in order to accommodate themselves to this canon, were covered ways, which winded through thickets and hollows.  Ever and anon, whenever there was aught of interest to be seen, they emerged into the open day, like moles rising for a moment to the light, and then straightway again buried themselves from view.  It was another of his canons, that "the eye should always look down upon water."  "Customary nature," he remarks, "made the thing a necessary requisite."  "Nothing," it is added, "could be more sensibly displeasing than the breadth of flat ground," which an acquaintance, engaged, like the poet, though less successfully, in making a picture-gallery of his property, had placed "between his terrace and his lake."  Now, in the Leasowes, wherever water is made to enter into the composition of the landscape, the eye looks down upon it from a commanding elevation—the visitor never feels, as he contemplates it, that he is in danger of being carried away by a flood, should an embankment give way.  It was yet further one of Shenstone's canons, that ''no more slope from the one side to the other can be agreeable ground: the eye requires a balance," not, however, of the kind satirized by Pope, in which


                                 each alley has its brother,
And half the platform just reflects the other;


but the kind of balance which the higher order of landscape painters rarely fail to introduce into their works.  "A building, for instance, on one side, may be made to contrast with a group of trees, a large oak, or a rising hill, on the other."  And in meet illustration of this principle, we find that all the scenes of the Leasowes are at least well balanced, though most of their central points are unluckily away: the eye never slides off the landscape, but cushions itself upon it with a sense of security and repose: and the feeling, even when one fails to trace it to its origin, is agreeable.  "Whence," says the poet, "does this taste proceed, but from the love we bear to regularity in perfection?  But, after all, in regard to gardens, the shape of the ground, the disposition of the trees, and the figure of the water, must be sacred to nature, and no forms must be allowed that make a discovery of art."

    England has produced many greater poets than Shenstone, but she never produced a greater landscape-gardener.  In at least this department he stands at the head of his class, unapproachable and apart, whether pitted against the men of his own generation, or those of the three succeeding ones.  And in any province in which mind must be exerted, it is at least some thing to be first.  The estimate of Johnson cannot fail to be familiar to almost every one.  It is, however, so true in itself, and so exquisitely characteristic of stately old Samuel, that I must indulge in the quotation.  "Now was excited his [Shenstone's] delight in rural pleasures, and his ambition of rural elegance.  He began to point his prospects, to diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his waters;  which he did with such judgment and such fancy as made his little domain the envy of the great and the admiration of the skilful—a place to be visited by travellers and copied by designers.  Whether to plant a walk in undulating curves, and to place a bench at every turn where there is an object to catch the view—to make water run where it will be heard, and to stagnate where it will be seen—to leave intervals where the eye will be pleased, and to thicken the plantation where there is something to be hidden—demand any great powers of mind, I will not inquire: perhaps a surly and sullen spectator may think such performances rather the sport than the business of human reason.  But it must be at least confessed, that to embellish the form of nature is an innocent amusement; and some praise must be allowed by the most supercilious observer to him who does best what such multitudes are contending to do well."

    But though England had no such landscape-gardener as Shenstone, it possessed denizens not a few, who thought more highly of their own taste than of his; and so the history of the Leasowes, for the ten years that immediately succeeded his death, is a history of laborious attempts to improve what he had rendered perfect.  This history we find recorded by Goldsmith, in one of his less known essays.  Considerable allowance must be made for the peculiar humour of the writer, and its exaggerative tendency; for no story, real or imaginary, ever lost in the hands of Goldsmith; but there is at least an air of truth about its general details.  "The garden," he says, "was completely grown and finished: the marks of every art were covered up by the luxuriance of nature—the winding walks were grown dark—the brooks assumed a natural selvedge—and the rocks were covered with moss.  Nothing now remained but to enjoy the beauties of the place, when the poor poet died, and his garden was obliged to be sold for the benefit of those who had contributed to its embellishment.

    "The beauties of the place had now for some time been celebrated as well in prose as in verse; and all men of taste wished for so envied a spot, where every turn was marked with the poet's pencil, and every walk awakened genius and meditation.  The first purchaser was one Mr. Truepenny, a button-maker, who was possessed of three thousand pounds, and was willing also to be possessed of taste and genius.

    "As the poet's ideas were for the natural wildness of the landscape, the button-maker's were for the more regular productions of art.  He conceived, perhaps, that as it is a beauty in a button to be of a regular pattern, so the same regularity ought to obtain in a landscape.  Be that as it will, he employed the shears to some purpose: he clipped up the hedges, cut down the gloomy walks, made vistas on the stables and hog-sties, and showed his friends what a man of true taste should always be doing.

    "The next candidate for taste and genius was a captain of a ship, who bought the garden because the former possessor could find nothing more to mend: but unfortunately he had taste too.  His great passion lay in building in making Chinese temples and cage-work summer-houses.  As the place before had the appearance of retirement, and inspired meditation, he gave it a more peopled air; every turning presented a cottage or icehouse, or a temple; the garden was converted into a little city, and it only wanted inhabitants to give it the air of a village in the East Indies.

    "In this manner, in less than ten years the improvement has gone through the hands of as many proprietors, who were all willing to have taste, and to show their taste too.  As the place had received its best finishing from the hands of the first possessor, so every innovator only lent a hand to do mischief.  Those parts which were obscure, have been enlightened; those walks which led naturally, have been twisted into serpentine windings.  The colour of the flowers of the field is not more various than the variety of tastes that have been employed here, and all in direct contradiction to the original aim of its first improver.  Could the original possessor but revive, with what a sorrowful heart would he look upon his favourite spot again!  He would scarcely recollect a dryad or a wood-nymph of his former acquaintance; and might perhaps find himself as much a stranger in his own plantation as in the deserts of Siberia."

    The after history of the Leasowes is more simple.  Time, as certainly as taste, though much less offensively, had been busy with seat and temple, obelisk and root-house; and it was soon found that, though the poet had planted, he had not built, for posterity.  The ingenious antiquary of Wheatfield discovered in the parsonage-house garden of his village, some time about the middle of the last century, a temple of lath and plaster, which had been erected, he held, by the old Romans, and dedicated to Claudius Cæsar; but the lath and plaster of these degenerate days do not last quite so long.  The progress of dilapidation was further accelerated by the active habits of occasional visitors.  Young men tried their strength by setting their shoulders to the obelisks; and old women demonstrated their wisdom by carrying home pieces of the seats to their fires: a robust young fellow sent poor Mr. Somerville's urn a-spinning down the hill; a vigorous iconoclast beheaded the piping fawn at a blow.  There were at first large additions made to the inscriptions, of a kind which Shenstone could scarce have anticipated; but anon inscriptions and additions too began to disappear; the tablet in the dingle suddenly failed to compliment Mr. Spence; and Virgil's grove no longer exhibited the name of Virgil.  "The ruinated Priory wall" became too thoroughly a ruin; the punchbowl was shivered on its stand; the iron ladle wrenched from beside the ferruginous spring; in short, much about the time when young Walter Scott was gloating over Dodsley, and wishing he too had a property of which to make a plaything, what Shenstone had built and inscribed on the Leasowes could be known but from Dodsley alone.  His artificialities had perished, like the artificialities of another kind of the poets his contemporaries; and nothing survived in his more material works, as in their writings, save those delightful portions in which he had but given body and expression to the harmonies of nature.



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NOTES.

 
6.    This volume, though it contains a good many authentic anecdotes of the younger Lyttelton, is not genuine.  It was written, shortly after his Lordship's death, when the public curiosity regarding him was much excited, by a person of resembling character—Duke Combo, a man who, after dissipating in early life a large fortune, lived precariously for many years as a clever but rather unscrupulous author of all work, and succeeded in producing, when turned of seventy, a well-known volume—"Dr. Syntax's Tour in search of the Picturesque."
 
7.    Walpole, Wraxall, Warner, and the Scots Magazine.  Malone, in one of the notes to Boswell's "Johnson," refers the reader for a correct account of "Lyttelton's supposed vision," to Nash's "History of Worcestershire; " and his reference has been reprinted without alteration, in the elaborate edition of Croker.  But the earlier commentator must have been misled in the case by a deceptive memory, and the latter by taking his predecessor's labours too much on trust.  Nash's entire notice consists of but a meagre allusion to his Lordship's death, wound up by the remark that there were circumstances connected with it well suited to "engage the attention of believers in the second sight."
 
8.    The reader may be curious to see the paragraph in which, sixty-seven years ago, the details of this singular incident were first communicated to the British public through the various periodicals of the day.  I quote from the Scots Magazine for December 1779: "On Thursday night, November 25th, Lord Lyttelton sat up late, after his vote on the Address in the House of Lords.  He complained of a violent headache next morning, seemed much discomposed, and recited a very striking dream, which, he said, would have made a deep impression on his mind had he been possessed of even the least particle of superstition.  He had started up from midnight sleep, on perceiving a bird fluttering near the bed-curtains, which vanished suddenly, when a female spectre in white raiment presented itself, and charged him to depend on his dissolution within three days.  He lamented jocosely the shortness of the warning; and observed, it was a short time for preparation after so disorderly a life.  On the Saturday morning, he found himself in spirits; and when at Epsom, told Mrs. F—(wife of the Hon. Mr. F—) that he should jockey the ghost if he escaped a few hours, for it was the third and last day.  He was seized with convulsions in the evening, and expired putting off his clothes to go into bed.  These circumstances are not only verified by Charles Wal—y, Esq., a captain in the royal navy, and many other respectable characters, witnesses of his Lordship's conversation and exit, but are remarkably impressed by the additional circumstance of a very intimate friend of Lord Lyttelton, at Dartford, in Kent, dreaming on the night of this evening (Saturday, November 27 ) that his Lordship had appeared to him towards daybreak, and, drawing back the curtain, said, 'My dear friend, it is all over; you see me for the last time,' or words to that effect."
 
9.    Certain it is—and the circumstance is a curious one—there were no firmer believers in the truth of the story than Lyttelton's own nearer relatives.  It was his uncle, a man of strong sense, to whom Johnson referred as his authority, and on whose direct evidence he built so much ; and we are told by Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, that the Dowager Lady Lyttelton—the younger Lord's stepmother, whom, however, the knight represents as "a woman of a very lively imagination"—was equally a believer.  "I have frequently seen at her house in Portugal Street, Grosvenor Square," says Sir Nathaniel, "a painting which she herself executed in 1780, expressly to commemorate the event.  It hung in a conspicuous part of her drawing-room.  There the dove appears at the window; while a female figure, habited in white, stands at the bed-foot, announcing to Lord Lyttelton his dissolution.  Every part of the picture was faithfully designed after the description given her by his Lordship's valet, to whom his master related all the circumstances."  "About four years after, in the year 1783," adds the knight, "when dining at Pit Place, I had the curiosity to visit Lord Lyttelton's bed-chamber, where the casement-window at which, as his Lordship asserted, the dove appeared to flutter, was pointed out to me."  The reader will perhaps remember that Byron refers to the apparition of the bird as a precedent for the passage in the "Bride of Abydos," in which he introduces the spirit of Selim as pouring out its sorrows, in the form of a nightingale, over the tomb of Zuleika.  "For a belief that the souls of the dead inhabit birds," says the poet, "we need not travel to the east: Lord Lyttelton's ghost story, and many other instances, bring this superstition nearer home."  The Lord Westcote, Lord Lyttelton's uncle, who related the story to Johnson, succeeded to the title and estate, and the present Lord Lyttelton is, I believe, Lord Westcote's grandson.

 


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