The first entrance of England is far from conveying favourable impressions. The country is bleak and dreary. The road to Belford is abominable.
You no sooner cross the boundary, than you are sensibly in another kingdom. Near neighbourhood and constant intercourse have effected little intercommunity of manners, language, or appearance. Before you advance ten miles on English ground, the women are prettier, the accent is perceptibly English, and hats and shoes are universal.
The southern part of Yorkshire is a very lovely country. It is certainly too flat; and to Scotch eyes the straight line which the horizon presents is tiresome. But it is divided into innumerable little fields, by hedges in every possible variety of curve, and composed of whatever can possibly enter into the composition of a hedge. Oak, crab, alder, elder, maple, hawthorn, briar, honeysuckle, and a thousand flowering weeds, all blending in unrestrained luxuriance! The English seem to think their hedges entitled to share in the national liberty; for they ramble into every direction, except a straight line, and straggle as they list, without either confining or being confined.
From Doncaster, which is a handsome town, we turned off from the great road to see the "Dukeries." Through these parks we drove for nearly a stage; crawling up and lumbering down steep hills, by the vilest roads that ever were seen--for made they are not. We saw nothing which I would have gone a yard to see, except the noble remains of Sherwood Forest. These belong to Thoresby Park; they consist of prodigious oaks, magnificent in decay, flourishing vigorously in the branches, while the trunks are generally hollow. From Ollerton the country continues beautifully swelling and woody to Newark, where we again joined the great road.
At Greatham--a comfortable little inn, where we were forced, by a tremendous thunder-storm, to take shelter for the night --I pointed out to the waiter a new parsonage, which was building within half a mile of the inn door, and asked him the name of his parish minister. He did not know!!! Intimate and affectionate relation between pastor and flock!--We were well driven, and by a good road, through Stamford to Burleigh the magnificent! A noble--respectable magnificence! Cecil had as good a taste in houses as his mistress had in prime ministers. Admirable pictures!-- A Magdalene, by Carlo Maratti; Domenichino's mistress, by himself--loveliness personified! Above all, the Salvator Mundi! The features are taken from the letter of Publius, describing the person of Christ --a profusion of curled auburn hair divides on the forehead, and falls to the shoulders. The dark grey eyes are raised in benediction, which the lips are half opened to pronounce--one hand holds the sacramental bread; the other is raised in the attitude of devotion. On the table stands the brazen plate, from whence the bread has been lifted; and a cup filled with the emblematic wine. These are the few simple objects which the picture represents. But the magical expression of the countenance! the inimitable execution of every part! Such benevolence--such sensibility--so divine-- so touching--cannot be conceived without the soul of Carlo Dolce! How blest must the creature have been whose fancy was peopled with such images!
---- called to take us to an oratorio at Covent-Garden. As we are nobody, he advised us to go to the pit, that we might have some chance of seeing and hearing. We were no sooner placed, than the adjoining seats were occupied by some very drunk sailors, and their own true loves, whose expressions of affection made it necessary to change our quarters. The music was far superior to any thing I had heard before. But in such a place, and in such company, the praise of God seemed almost blasphemy. All went on peaceably enough, till it pleased Braham, the most delightful singer that ever sung, to sing a nonsensical song about Lord Nelson. Although the words and tune were equally despicable, the song was encored; Braham was engaged elsewhere, and went off without complying. The next performer, Mrs Ashe, a sweet modest looking creature, whose figure declared her to be in no fit situation to bear fright or ill-usage, tried to begin her song, but was stopped by a tremendous outcry. She tried it again and again, but not a note could be heard, and she desisted. The Halleluiah chorus was begun; but the people bawled, and whistled, and hissed, and thumped, and shrieked, and groaned, and hooted, and made a thousand indescribable noises besides, till they fairly drowned the organ, the French horns, the kettle-drums, and-- the Halleluiah chorus! So I have seen Covent-Garden and a row! ------
To-day, the charity children, to the number of seven thousand, assembled in St Paul's. They were all clothed in the uniform of their several schools; and their dress was quite new and clean; they were placed on circular seats, rising above each other, under the dome. The area in the centre of the circle which they formed, and the whole of the nave, were filled by many thousand spectators. We had a full view of them all; and indeed I have seen no view so delightful in all London, as this sight of 7,000 immortal beings, rescued by the charity of their fellow-creatures from ignorance and misery; nor have I heard any music so noble as the burst of their little voices, when the old 100th Psalm rung in the mighty vault of St Paul's. They too sung the Halleluiah chorus, with- out any accompaniment but the organ. What a contrast to Covent-Garden!
Went to Wilkie's Exhibition--the best bestowed shilling I have spent in London! Picture of a Sick Lady; the colouring is delightful; a wonderful escape from spotting. A Card-playing groupe--admirable!--So is the Blind Fidler. An excellent Reckoning Day; one of the figures is leaning across the table, and evidently saying to the steward, "I'll make the thing quite plain to you." The steward is knitting his brows, as much as to say, "It is not quite plain yet." One sits gnawing the head of his staff. Another is reckoning to himself on his fingers. One groupe have closed their accounts, and are stuffing at a side-table. In general, each picture tells its own story completely; the colouring is almost always pleasing.
The Opera House does not strike me as more splendid than Covent-Garden. Catalani sung admirably, and Tramezzani is an excellent actor. The dancing is more striking for its agility than for its grace. Vestris spins round on one foot an incredible number of times; and he kicks out both before and behind till his leg is perfectly at right angles to his body.
But all this kicking and spinning cannot please the sick! It is now near a fortnight since all the pomps and novelties of this world of wonders became nothing more to me than the shadows that flit along the walls of a prison. Every thing tires me now!
At Woolwich we saw mountains of balls, and thousands of cannon! We saw the whole process of making ball-cartridges. The balls are cast in a mould, two together, connected by a bar of an inch or two long; they are then cut asunder, close by each ball, and the little bar is thrown back into the melting-pot; then each ball is tied in a rag; then in a paper cone, with room left above it for powder. The powder is run by measure into the cone, and the top is fastened down; the cartridges are then packed in small parcels, and the business is finished. Each of these operations is performed by a different hand, and with dispatch almost incredible. One boy fills 4,000 cartridges in a day; little creatures, who would scarcely be entrusted in Orkney with the pastoral care of three geese, earn eight or nine shillings a-week in this way.
Charlton is most beautiful; it is almost romantic. The house is very elegant; the windows of a beautiful suite of rooms open out upon a charming little lawn, shaven like green velvet, and bounded in front by an abrupt woody bank, which forms one side of a deep and woody dell. The grounds are sheltered in every direction by woods of various kinds, through which there are led walks, as retired as those in Highland glens; yet every opening affords a glimpse of the river, constantly alive with vessels of all sizes, from the gaudy pleasure-boat up to an Indiaman. Of all the places I ever saw, considered merely as a place, Charlton is that where I should chuse to set up my rest.
Next day went to the Victualling-Office at Deptford; where I should have thought there was food enough for a nation. I think they told us there were eight stores of beef, one of which we saw, containing 16,000 casks, of three hundred weight each. The baking of biscuits was going on with astonishing speed; but, as it seemed to me, with very bad success. One man kneaded, another shaped, a third divided them, a fourth laid them on a board, and a fifth pushed them into the oven; withal they are ill-shaped and worse fired; some are burnt, and some are raw. This, however, is a little equalized in the drying-rooms, which are above pine-apple heat. In the brew-house is a nice little steam-engine, by which all the work is performed.
In Meux's Brewery every thing is as filthy as steam and smoke, and dust and rust can make it; except the steam engine, which is as polished and as clean as the bars of a drawing-room grate. The first operation of this engine is to stir the malt in vats of twenty-eight feet diameter, filled with boiling water; the second is, in due time, to raise the wort to the coolers, in the floor above; then this wort is conveyed by leaden pipes into the tub where it is to ferment, and afterwards into the casks where the porter is first deposited. One of these casks, which I saw, measures seventy feet in diameter, and is said to have cost £10,000; the iron hoops on it weigh eighty tons; and we were told that it actually contained, when we saw it, 18,000 barrels, or £40,000 worth of porter. Another contained 16,000 barrels, and from thence to 4,000; there are above seventy casks in the store.
From the top of the immense building, which holds this vast apparatus, we had a complete view of London and the adjacent country. I must own, however, that I was rejoiced to find myself once more safe in the street. I believe, indeed, that I am, as Dr Blair phrases it, "destined to creep through the inferior walks of life;" for I never feel myself in a very elevated situation, without being seized with an universal tremor. I shook in every limb for an hour after coming down.
A long walk on Hampstead-heath with ----, who took leave of me very kindly.-- We drove to Vauxhall. No public amusement in London has pleased me so much --probably because it was entirely new to me. There was no moon; and from total darkness we at once entered a colonnade, blazing with literally thousands of lamps of every various colour; suspended in the forms of festoons, stars, coronets, and every else that is graceful and fantastic. Some of the walks were in total darkness. Others were lighted by a pavilion, or a pagoda, or a temple of lamps, to which the walk formed a vista. Several rooms and colonnades contained boxes, retreating behind a row of light pillars, twisted round with wreaths of lamps. In each box was laid a small table for supper. Bands of music were stationed in different parts of the garden; and English, Irish, Scotch, German, and Turkish airs were performed by musicians in the garb of each country. Many thousands of well dressed people were assembled in this gay scene. Upon the whole, Vauxhall is the gayest raree shew possible,--and no bad type of that kind of pleasures,--glittering and bright enough when not too closely examined; but, when seen in fair day-light, mean, worthless, and unsubstantial.
Nothing in the beautiful environs of London is so beautiful as the view from Richmond-hill. I do not at all wonder that our Southern neighbours complain of the scarcity of wood in Scotland. The country seen from Richmond-hill is wooded, as far as the eye can reach, like a gentleman's park. All is, to be sure, nearly a dead level. But the multitude of elegant houses, --the richness of the woods,--and the windings of the smooth Thames beneath its flat turfy banks,--make the whole scene resemble an immense pleasure ground, interspersed with clumps, lawns, temples, and artificial pieces of water. Perhaps my national partialities deceive me, but, though I must own we have no prospect so rich, I think we have some infinitely more interesting. There is no compensating for the varied outline of our distant mountains--a dead flat line in the horizon spoils any prospect in my eyes.
Windsor occupies an eminence, or, as they are pleased to call it in England, a hill. It makes a very noble appearance, as it rises above the woods with its banners floating in the air. It is indeed the only royal residence I have seen at all fit for a king. The apartments are very handsome--and the Hanoverian plate superb. There are some very fine pictures. I was particularly struck with two small ones by Carlo Dolce--a Madonna--and a "Bearing the cross." The first is finished exquisitely; the face is lovely; and the drapery perfectly graceful. The deep sorrow in the face of the Saviour is wonderfully touching; the hands are inimitable. These are in the king's dressing closet. In the same room is a beautiful sketch by Rubens. In the king's drawing-room is a "Holy Family," the most interesting of any of Rubens' pictures which I have seen. "Venus attired by the Graces," by Guido, seems a masterpiece of grace and nature. However, as gentlemen are admitted to her Goddess-ship's presence, I wish her tirewomen had been a little more expeditious.
The apartments immediately over those occupied by the king are shut up; nor is any one allowed to walk beneath his windows. We saw his private chapel, where he was accustomed to attend regularly every day with his family; but the good man's seat has long been vacant, and it will be long before his equal fill it.
From the top of the round tower there is a very rich and extensive view; but, except on the Eton side, still less interesting than that from Richmond-hill.
From Windsor we went by Henley to Oxford, through one of the loveliest countries upon earth. The ground is actually hilly. Every spot is cultivated, or richly wooded; the fields bear fine crops, in spite of farming vile beyond expression; and the whole is clothed with the brightest verdure imaginable. Nothing is more striking, in a comparison of the two extremities of the island, than the difference of colour. Even our richest fields in Scotland have either a brown or greyish cast; and except upon a gentleman's lawn, the verdure of English grass is never seen to the north of Newcastle.
The approach to Oxford is very striking. The spires are seen at a distance, mingling with trees; which are fine, in spite of the barbarous custom of lopping their lower branches. As you enter the town, Magdalene College is the first thing you see. As you proceed along the High-street, something new and grand presents itself at every step; spires, domes, minarets, and arches! I have seen no street of the same length at all comparable to it for magnificence. It bends a little, so that something is always left to expectation.
We quickly procured a guide, who conducted us to the Chapel of Magdalene. One end of the Chapel contains a window, painted in so elegant a design that I could scarcely believe its antiquity. The side windows in the choir are in the same style of colouring; and unfortunately darken the altar piece, a most glorious picture! It represents the Saviour bending under his cross; his temples bleeding with the thorns. The attitude is a wonderful mixture of grace and exhaustion; the countenance expresses the noblest resignation. The drapery is very fine; not frittered away in small lights and shadows, but disposed in grand broad folds. The colouring is harmoniously sober,--the finishing is perfect, --there is a tear upon the cheek,--a drop of blood has trickled down to the neck,-- every muscle in the feet, every vein in the hands, is perceptible.
The walks of Magdalene College are shaded by tall trees, and lie along the banks of the Charwell; a stream which will never disturb the student's musings, either by its noise or motion. Our guide told us that the "walks were always cool, because of a pleasant hair which came from the water." He made us particularly notice, "Haddison's walk,--the great poet as wrote the Spectators." * * *
The Radcliffe library is a very beautiful rotunda, with a gallery running round it. As to books, there are none except a few medical ones. * * *
The Pomfret Marbles are old patched remnants--bodies without heads, and heads without bodies. Some of these scraps are very fine, but most of them spoiled by modern mending.
From the Marbles we went to the Theatre --that is, the place where the disputations are held. It is a room above eighty feet long and above seventy broad; the largest roof, we were told, in the kingdom, unsupported by pillars. The roof is made of square pieces of wood, all joined together by screws and nuts. The room is said to contain 5000 persons, which appears to me incredible. There are galleries on three sides. I am disappointed in the Theatre, which is far inferior to the Radcliffe both in magnificence and beauty. * * The gardens of St John's are very pretty; and kept, like every thing about Oxford, with exemplary neatness.
Though I am absolutely tired of looking at pictures, we went with new pleasure to take a second view of the altar-piece of Magdalene Chapel. Next to the Burleigh Carlo Dolce, it is the most enchanting picture I ever saw. I must not pretend to judge, but, if it be a Guido, it is finished in a manner differing from his ordinary style. It seems to have roused the enthusiasm of the woman who shews it. She pointed out its beauties with the warmest and most naif admiration. "Oh! Madam," she said to me with tears in her eyes, "what do you think? I have shewn this glorious picture for thirty years, and now I must leave it. I buried my husband six weeks ago; and the shewing of them things is always given to men. But, thank God, they cannot hinder me to see it in the time of prayers." She was delighted with our admiration, and positively refused a fee at parting!!!
We returned to "the Angel," to dinner ; and then left this most interesting and (if I may except "mine own romantic town") most beautiful city that ever I beheld.
The road to Woodstock is made interesting by the retiring spires of Oxford. Woodstock itself is a neat enough village, peopled, as well as Blenheim, by a colony of extortioners--their manufactures of gloves and steel being only the tools of this their real trade.
I was disappointed in the first coup d'oeil of Blenheim. I had heard too much of it. The water was full of weeds, betraying at once its artificial origin. The poorest rill that tosses untamed in its rocky channel, or frets against the pebbles which it has borne down from its hill, is less admirable indeed, but more interesting, than an ocean which we know to be confined by man's devices. But Blenheim is intended to astonish, not to interest. It is a huge splendid show-box, made to be looked at, and only to be looked at. The house is princely; but the moment you enter it you perceive that it is of no more use to the owner than its picture would be. He may shew--but he cannot live in it. In fact, a very small part of it is in family use. The rest, for payment of certain most unreasonable fees, is at the service of the public. The entrance hall is magnificent; and answers one's ideas of splendour. The saloon too is superb, with its fine marble portals. The library is very splendid, with its pillars, pilasters, and basement of marble; but it is ill proportioned; and not very fully lighted. The chapel is very well; with a princely monument to "the Duke." The other apartments are just well enough. There are some fine pictures--particularly a large collection of Rubens's. There is a fine Rembrandt,--"Isaac blessing Jacob;" two charming Beggar Boys by Murillo; and a Madonna by Carlo Dolce, in his own manner and his best manner, which is most delightful. But one has no time to study pictures at Blenheim. The servant rhymes over their names, and drives you from one to another, as if you could see a picture as you see what's o'clock.
I need not chronicle the grandeur of Blenheim, for we bought, of course, the Blenheim Guide, where Dr Mavor has made all the finery ten times finer. The china gallery contains specimens of the progress of porcelain for 2000 years. Costly, I make no doubt,--every thing is so at Blenheim!--but utterly void of beauty or interest to me. I paid one half-crown to see it; I would not give another for the whole collection. In one of the attached offices is the theatre; in another is the Titian gallery, hung, I cannot say ornamented, with pictures by that master. They represent about a score of gods and goddesses, as large as life and as ugly as sin. I wish, on the other hand, that sin were always as naked as they. Nobody could then be deceived about its nature. * * The park is truly fine. * *
Escaped from Woodstock; and, with the very worst driving we have seen since we left home, reached Stratford-on-Avon before it was quite dark. Hurried to Shakespeare's house--sat in his chair--saw his bed-room--the room where he was born! The walls are covered with the names of such as wished to buy a part of his immortality at a cheap rate. Part of his furniture remains; but all is falling fast to decay.
Next morning we went by an admirable road, through a pretty country, to Warwick. Warwick has been a fortified town. It has still a portcullis and tower at each end. It is clean, handsome, and remarkably well paved. The avenue to the castle is strikingly appropriate. It is a winding road cut through the solid rock, which rises on each side to the height of 12 or 15 feet, and is crowned with ivy and tangled shrubs. The great court of the castle is admirable. Here is nothing that calls you to admire with the arrogance of upstart finery; but there is a magnificence more touching than splendour--the sober dignity of baronial pomp softened by the hand of time into something between beauty and sublimity. The stately towers and battlements, unshaken by the storms of ages, are here and there gracefully shrouded in ivy. There is a reality--a consistency--an air of nature, I may say, in the majesty of Warwick, which gives it a most interesting charm. To this charm the Prince of Wales alluded very happily, when he said to some one who compared Warwick with Blenheim, "We can build a Blenheim." Three sides of the court are surrounded by the buildings connected with the castle. The fourth is occupied by what has once been a fortified embankment; but is now thickly covered with trees, evergreens, and flowering shrubs. Close under the walls of the castle flows the Avon, which is here a very beautiful stream; and from some of the Gothic windows there is a most appropriate view of the ruined arches of a bridge, which was once commanded by the fortress.
The entrance-hall of Warwick is not so superb as that of Blenheim; but it is more unaffected. It is characteristically ornamented with arms, furs of animals, and antlers of the Moose Deer. It is lined with oak; and is, as well as the very long and noble suite of apartments into which it opens, finished in the style of Harry VII's time. One of the largest rooms in the house is pannelled with carved cedar.
The gardens are fine and extensive. The dressed ground commands beautiful glimpses of the park and the adjacent country. In the Conservatory is the superb Warwick Vase. It was found in Herculaneum, and has been transported without any injury. It is made from one block of pure white marble; the carving is in alto relievo, and as fresh as if it had been cut yesterday. We were told that it contains 120 gallons. * * *
Our journey from London to Harrogate has, upon the whole, been most delightful.
This presentation of Emmeline. With Some Other Pieces., by Mary Brunton is Copyright 2003 by P.J. LaBrocca. It may not be copied, duplicated, stored or transmitted in any form without written permission. The text is in the public domain.