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In Warwickshire by By Henry James

 

AN ACCOMPLISHED contributor to these pages lately used a happy phrase in speaking of that charming region whose name I have just written. He called it the “heart of England.” Making a short stay there very lately, I remembered this appellation. I felt as if I were at the grassy centre and core of the English world. It is in fact central England, midmost England, essential, immitigable England. I have a sense of knowing a good deal more about this admirable country by reason of this heedful sojourn. I feel as if, after a fashion, I had been “interviewing” the genius of pastoral Britain. From a charming lawn—-a lawn delicious to one's sentient boot-sole—-I looked without obstruction at a sombre, soft, romantic mass, whose outline was blurred by mantling ivy. It made a perfect picture; and, in the foreground, the great trees overarched their boughs from right and left, so as to give it a symmetrical frame. This interesting object was Kenilworth castle. It was within distance of an easy walk, but one hardly thought of walking to it any more than one would have thought of walking to a purple-shadowed tower in the background of a Berghem or a Claude. Here there were purple shadows, and slowly shifting lights, and a soft-hued, bosky country in the middle distance.

Of course, however, I did walk over to Kenilworth castle; and of course the walk led me through leafy lanes, and inside the hedgerows, that make a tangled screen for lawn-like meadows. Of course too, I am bound to add, there was a row of ancient peddlers outside the castle wall, hawking twopenny pamphlets and photographs. Of course, equally, at the foot of the grassy mound on which the ruin stands, there were half a dozen public houses; and, always of course, there were half a dozen beery paupers sprawling on the grass in the moist sunshine. There was the usual respectable young woman to open the castle gate and to receive the usual sixpenny fee. And there were the usual squares of printed cardboard, suspended upon venerable surfaces, with further mention of twopence, threepence, fourpence. I do not allude to these things querulously, for Kenilworth is a very tame lion—-a lion that, in former years, I had stroked more than once. I remembered perfectly my first visit to this romantic spot—-how I chanced upon a picnic; how I stumbled over beer bottles there; how the very echoes of the beautiful ruin seemed to have dropped all their h's. That was a sultry afternoon; I allowed my spirits to sink, and I came away hanging my head. This was a beautiful fresh morning, and in the interval I had grown philosophic. I had learned that, with regard to all the public lions in England, there is a minimum of cockneyfication with which you must make your account. There are always people on the field before you, and there is generally something being drunk on the premises.

I hoped, on the occasion of which I am now speaking, that I had chanced upon the minimum; and indeed, for the first five minutes I flattered myself that this was the case. In the beautiful grassy court of the castle, on my entrance, there were not more than eight or ten fellow-intruders. There were a couple of old ladies on a bench, eating something out of a newspaper; there was a dissenting minister, also on a bench, reading the guide-book aloud to his wife and sister-in-law; there were three or four children pushing each other up and down the turfy hillocks. This was sweet seclusion indeed; and I got a capital start with the various beautiful square-windowed fragments of the stately pile. They are extremely beautiful, with their even, pale red colour, their deep-green drapery, their princely vastness of scale. But presently the tranquil ruin began to swarm like a startled hive. There were plenty of people, if they chose to show themselves. They emerged from crumbling doorways and gaping chambers, with the best conscience in the world; but I know not, after all, why I should bear them a grudge, for they gave me a pretext for wandering about in search of a quiet point of view. I cannot say that I found my point of view, but in looking for it I saw the castle, which is certainly an admirable ruin. And when the respectable young woman had let me out of the gate again, and I had shaken my head at the civil-spoken peddlers who form a little avenue for the arriving and departing visitor, I found it in my good nature to linger a moment on the trodden, grassy slope, and to think that in spite of the hawkers, the paupers, and the beer shops, there was still a good deal of old England in the scene. I say in spite of these things, but it may have been, in some degree, because of them. Who shall resolve into it's component parts any impression of this richly complex English world, where the present is always seen, as it were, in profile, and the past presents a full face? At all events the solid red castle rose behind me, towering above it's small old ladies and it's investigating parsons; before me, across the patch of common, was a row of ancient cottages, black-timbered, red-gabled, picturesque, which evidently had a memory of the castle in it's better days. A quaintish village straggled away on the right, and on the left the dark, fat meadows were lighted up with misty sun spots and browsing sheep. I looked about for the village stocks; I was ready to take the modern vagrants for Shakespearian clowns; and I was on the point of going into one of the ale houses to ask Mrs. Quickly for a cup of sack.

I began these remarks, however, with no intention of talking about the tame lions in which this region abounds, but with a design, rather, of noting a few impressions of some of the shyer and more elusive ornaments of the show. Stratford, of course, is a very sacred place, but I prefer to say a word, for instance, about a charming old rectory, a good many miles distant, and to tell what a pleasant picture it made of a summer afternoon, during a domestic festival. These are the happiest of a stranger's memories of English life, and he feels that he need make no apology for lightly touching upon them. I drove through the leafy lanes I spoke of just now, and peeped over the hedges into fields where the yellow harvest stood waiting. In some places they were already shorn, and while the light began to redden in the west and to make a horizontal glow behind the dense wayside foliage, the gleaners, here and there, came brushing through gaps in the hedges with enormous sheaves upon their shoulders. The rectory was an ancient gabled building, of pale red brick, with white stone facings and clambering vines. It dates, I imagine, from the early Hanoverian time; and as it stood there upon it's cushiony lawn, among it's ordered gardens, cheek to cheek with it's little Norman church, it seemed to me the model of a quiet, spacious, easy English home. The cushiony lawn, as I have called it, stretched away to the edge of a brook, and afforded to a number of very amiable people an opportunity of playing lawn-tennis. There were half a dozen games going forward at once, and at each of them a great many “nice girls,” as they say in England, were distinguishing themselves. These young ladies kept the ball going with an agility worthy of the sisters and sweethearts of a race of cricketers, and gave me a chance to admire their flexibility of figure and their freedom of action. When they came back to the house, after the games, flushed a little and a little dishevelled, they might have passed for the attendant nymphs of Diana, flocking in from the chase. There had, indeed, been a chance for them to wear the quiver, a target for archery being erected on the lawn. I remembered George Eliot's Gwendolen, and waited to see her step out of the bemuslined groups; but she was not forthcoming, and it was plain that if lawn-tennis had been invented in Gwendolen's day, this young lady would have captivated Mr. Grandcourt by her exploits with the racket. She certainly would have been a mistress of the game; and, if the suggestion is not too gross, the free play of arm that she would have learned from it might have proved an inducement to her boxing the ears of the insupportable Deronda.

After a while it grew too dark for lawn-tennis; but while the twilight was still mildly brilliant I wandered away, out of the grounds of the charming parsonage, and turned into the little churchyard beside it. Here I found myself up to my neck in Gray's “Elegy.” The little weather-worn, rust-coloured church had an appearance of high antiquity; there were some curious Norman windows in the apse. Unfortunately I could not get inside; I could only glance into the open doors across the interval of a quaint old-timbered, heavy-hooded, padlocked porch. But the sweetest evening stillness hung over the place, and the sunset was red behind a dark row of rook-haunted elms. The stillness seemed the greater because three or four rustic children were playing, with little soft cries, among the crooked, deep-buried grave-stones. One poor little girl, who seemed deformed, had climbed some steps that served as a pedestal for a tall, medieval-looking cross. She sat perched there, staring at me through the gloaming. This was the heart of England, unmistakably; it might have been the very pivot of a nations peace. One need not be a rabid Anglican to be extremely sensible of the charm of an English country church—-and indeed of some of the features of an English rural Sunday. In London there is something oppressive in the rigidly decent and ultra-genteel observance of this festival; but in the country some of the ceremonies that it entails have an indefinable harmony with an ancient, pastoral landscape. I made this reflection on an occasion that is still very fresh in my memory. I said to myself that the walk to church from a beautiful country house, of a lovely summer afternoon, may be the prettiest possible adventure. The house stands perched upon a pedestal of rock, and looks down from it's windows and terraces upon a shadier spot in the wooded meadows, of which the blunted tip of a spire explains the character. A little company of people, whose costume denotes the highest pitch of civilization, winds down through the blooming gardens, passes out of a couple of small gates, and reaches the foot-path in the fields. This is especially what takes the fancy of the sympathetic stranger; the level, deep-green meadows, studded here and there with a sturdy oak; the denser grassiness of the foot-path, the lily-sheeted pool beside which it passes, the rustic stiles, where he stops and looks back at the great house and it's wooded background. It is in the highest degree probable that he has the privilege of walking with a very pretty girl, and it is morally certain that he thinks a pretty English girl the prettiest creature in the world. He knows that she doesn't know how pretty is this walk of theirs; she has been taking it—-or taking another quite as good—-any time these twenty years. But her quiet-eyed unsuspectingness only makes her the more a part of his delicate entertainment. The latter continues unbroken while they reach the little churchyard, and pass up to the ancient porch, round which the rosy rustics are standing decently and deferentially, to watch the arrival of the brilliant contingent. This party takes it's place in a great square pew, as large as a small room, and with seats all round, and while he listens to the respectable intonings the sympathetic stranger reads over the inscriptions on the mural tablets before him, all to the honour of the earlier bearers of a name which is, for himself, a symbol of hospitality.

When I came back to the parsonage the entertainment had been transferred to the interior, and I had occasion to admire the maidenly vigour of those charming young girls, who, after playing lawn-tennis all the afternoon, were modestly expecting to dance all the evening. And in regard to this it is not impertinent to say that from almost any group of young English girls—-though preferably from such as have passed their lives in quiet country homes—-an American observer receives a delightful impression of something that he can best describe as general salubrity. He notices face after face in which this rosy absence of a morbid strain—-this simple, natural, affectionate development—-amounts to positive beauty. If the young girl has no other beauty, the look I speak of is a sufficient charm; but when it is united, as it so often is, to real perfection of feature and colour, the result is the most beautiful thing in nature. It makes the highest type of English beauty, and to my sense there is nothing better than that. Not long since I heard a clever foreigner indulge, in conversation with an English lady—-a very wise and liberal woman—-in a little lightly restrictive criticism of her countrywomen. “It is possible,” she answered, in regard to one of his objections; “but such as they are, they are inexpressibly dear to their husbands.” This is doubtless true of good wives all over the world; but I felt, as I listened to these words of my friend, that there is often something in an English girl-face which gives it an extra touch of justesse. Such as the woman is, she has here, more than elsewhere, the look of being completely and profoundly at the service of the man she loves. This look, after one has been a while in England, comes to seem so much a proper and indispensable part of a “nice” face, that the absence of it appears a sign of irritability, vanity, hardness, shallowness. Depth of tenderness, as regards a masculine counterpart—-that is what it means; and I confess that that seems to me a very agreeable meaning. I quite agreed with the author of the declaration I have quoted, that it outweighed the particular foible her interlocutor had touched upon, for, if I recollect rightly, this was merely some slight irregularity of toilet.

As for the prettiness, I cannot forbear, in the face of a fresh reminiscence, to give it another word. And yet, in regard to prettiness, what do words avail? This was what I asked myself the other day as I looked at a young girl who stood in an old oaken parlour, whose rugged panelling made a background for her lovely head, in simple conversation with a handsome lad. I said to myself that the faces of English young people had often a singular charm, but that this same charm is too soft and shy a thing to talk about. The young girls face had a lovely oval, and her clear brown eyes a quiet warmth. Her complexion was as pure as a sunbeam after rain, and she smiled in a way that made any other way of smiling than that seem a shallow grimace—-a mere creaking of the facial muscles. The young man stood facing her, slowly scratching his thigh and shifting from one foot to the other. He was tall and very well made, and so sun-burned that his fair hair was lighter than his complexion. He had honest, stupid blue eyes, and a simple smile that showed his handsome teeth. He was very well dressed. Presently I heard what they were saying. “I suppose it's pretty big,” said the beautiful young girl. “Yes; it's pretty big,” said the handsome young man. “It's nicer when they are big,” said the young girl. The young man looked at her, and at everything in general, with his slowly apprehending blue eye, and for some time no further remark was made. “It draws ten feet of water,” he at last went on. “How much water is there?” said the young girl. She spoke in a charming voice. “There are thirty feet of water,” said the young man. “Oh, that's enough,” said the young girl. I had had an idea they were flirting. It was an ancient room and extremely picturesque; everything was polished over with the brownness of centuries. The chimney-piece was carved a foot thick, and the windows bore, in coloured glass, the quarterings of ancestral couples. These had stopped two hundred years before; there was nothing newer than that date. Outside the windows was a deep, broad moat, which washed the base of grey walls—-grey walls spotted over with the most delicate yellow lichens.

In such a region as this mellow, conservative Warwickshire an appreciative American finds the small things quite as suggestive as the great. Everything, indeed, is suggestive, and impressions are constantly melting into each other and doing their work before he has had time to ask them where they came from. He cannot go into a vine-covered cottage to see a genial gentlewoman and a “nice girl" without being reminded forsooth of “The Small House at Allington.” Why of “The Small House at Allington?” There is a larger house at which the ladies come up to dine; but that is surely an insufficient reason. That the ladies are charming—-even that is not reason enough; for there have been other nice girls in the world than Lily Dale, and other mellow matrons than her mamma. Reminded, however, he is—-especially when he goes out upon the lawn. Of course there is lawn-tennis, and it seems all ready for Mr. Crosbie to come and play. This is a small example of the way in which I caught my impertinent imagination constantly at play. In driving and walking, in looking and listening, everything seemed in some degree or other characteristic of a rich, powerful, old-fashioned society. One had no need of being told that this is a conservative county; the fact seemed written in the hedgerows and in the verdant acres behind them. Of course the owners of these things were conservative; of course they were stubbornly unwilling to see the great, harmonious edifice of Church and State the least bit shaken. I had a feeling, as I went about, that I should find some very ancient and curious opinions still comfortably domiciled in the fine old houses whose clustered gables and chimneys appeared here and there, at a distance, above their ornamental wards. Self-complacent British Toryism, viewed in this vague and conjectural fashion—-across the fields and behind the oaks and birches—-is by no means a thing the irresponsible stranger would wish away; it deepens the local colour; it may be said to enhance the landscape. I got a sort of constructive sense of it's presence in the picturesque old towns of Coventry and Warwick, which appear to be filled with those institutions—-chiefly of an eleemosynary order—-that Toryism takes a genial comfort in. There are ancient charities in these places—-hospitals, almshouses, asylums, infant schools—-so quaint and venerable that they almost make the existence of poverty a delectable and satisfying thought. In Coventry in especial, I believe, these pious foundations are so numerous as almost to place a premium upon misery. Invidious reflections apart, however, there are few things that speak more quaintly and suggestively of the old England that an American loves than these clumsy little monuments of ancient benevolence. Such an institution as Leicester's hospital at Warwick seems indeed to exist primarily for the sake of it's spectacular effect upon the American tourists, who, with the dozen rheumatic old soldiers maintained in affluence there, constitute it's principal clientèle.

The American tourist usually comes straight to this quarter of England—-chiefly for the purpose of paying his respects to Shakespeare's birthplace. Being here, he comes to Warwick to see the castle; and being at Warwick, he comes to see the odd little theatrical looking refuge for superannuated warriors which lurks in the shadow of one of the old gate-towers. Every one will remember Hawthorne's charming account of the place, which has left no touch of fancy to be added to any reference to it. The hospital struck me as a little museum kept up for the amusement and confusion of those Western travellers who are used to seeing charity more dryly and practically administered. The old Hospitallers—-I am not sure, after all, whether they are necessarily soldiers, but some of them happen to be—-are at once the curiosities and the keepers. They sit on benches outside of their door, at the receipt of custom, all neatly brushed and darned, and ready, like Mr. Cook, to conduct you personally. They are only twelve in number, but their picturesque dwelling, perched upon the old city rampart, and full of dusky little courts, cross-timbered gable ends, and deeply sunken lattices, seems a wonderfully elaborate piece of machinery for it's humble purpose. Each of the old gentlemen must be provided with a wife or “housekeeper;” each of them has a dusky parlour of his own; and they pass their latter days in their scoured and polished little refuge as softly and honourably as a company of retired lawgivers or pensioned soothsayers.

At Coventry I went to see a couple of old charities of a similar pattern—-things with black-timbered fronts, and little clean-swept courts, and Elizabethan lattices. One of them was a picturesque residence for a handful of old women, who sat, each of them, in a cosy little bower, in a sort of mediaeval darkness; the other was a school for little boys of humble origin, and this last establishment was charming. I found the little boys playing at “top” in a gravelled court, in front of the prettiest old building of tender-coloured stucco and painted timber, ornamented with two delicate little galleries and a fantastic porch. They were dressed in little blue tunics and odd caps, like those worn by sailors, but, if I remember rightly, with little yellow tags affixed to them. I was free, apparently, to wander all over the establishment; there was no sign of pastor or master anywhere; nothing but the little yellow-headed boys playing before the ancient house, and practising most correctly the Warwickshire accent. I went indoors and looked at a fine old oaken staircase; I even ascended it, and walked along a gallery and peeped into a dormitory at a row of very short beds; and then I came down and sat for five minutes on a bench hardly wider than the top rail of a fence, in a little, cold, dim refectory, where there was not a crumb to be seen, nor any lingering odour of bygone repasts to be perceived. And yet I wondered how it was that the sense of many generations of boyish feeders seemed to abide there. It came, I suppose, from the very bareness and, if I may be allowed the expression, the clean-licked aspect of the place, which wore the appearance of the famous platter of Jack Sprat and his wife.

Inevitably, of course, the sentimental tourist has a great deal to say to himself about this being Shakespeare's county—-about these densely verdant meadows and parks having been, to his musing eyes, the normal landscape. In Shakespeare's day, doubtless, the coat of nature was far from being so prettily trimmed as it is now; but there is one place, nevertheless, which, as he passes it in the summer twilight, the traveller does his best to believe unaltered. I allude, of course, to Charlecote park, whose venerable verdure seems a survival from an earlier England, and whose innumerable acres, stretching away, in the early evening, to vaguely seen Tudor walls, lie there like the backward years melting into a mighty date. It was, however, no part of my design in these remarks to pause before so thickly besieged a shrine as this; and if I were to allude to Stratford, it would not be in connection with the fact that Shakespeare came into the world there. It would be rather to speak of a delightful old house near the Avon which struck me as the ideal home for a Shakespearian scholar, or indeed for any passionate lover of the poet. Here, with books, and memories, and the recurring reflection that he had taken his daily walk across the bridge, at which you look from your windows straight down an avenue of fine old trees, with an ever-closed gate at the end of them, and a carpet of turf stretched over the dismal drive—-here, I say, with old brown wainscotted chambers to live in, old polished doorsteps to lead you from one to the other, deep window seats to sit in, with a play in your lap—-here a person for whom the cares of life should have resolved themselves into a care for the greatest genius who has represented and ornamented life, might find a very harmonious resting place. Or, speaking a little wider of the mark, the charming, rambling, low-gabled, many-staired, much-panelled mansion I speak of, would be a most delectable home for any person of taste who prefers an old house to a new. I find I am talking about it almost like an auctioneer; but what I chiefly had at heart was to commemorate the fact that I had lunched there, and while I lunched kept saying to myself that there is nothing in the world so delightful as a human habitation which three or four hundred years have done their best to make irregular.

And yet that same day, on the edge of the Avon, I found it in me to say that a new house too may be a very charming affair. But I must add that the new house I speak of had really such exceptional advantages that it could not fairly be placed in the scale. Besides, was it new after all? I suppose that it was, and yet ones impression there was all of a kind of silvery antiquity. The place stood upon a genteel Stratford street, from which it looked harmless enough; but when, after sitting a while in a charming modern drawing-room, one stepped thoughtlessly through an open window upon a veranda, one found that one was “in” for something more than one bargains for in the customary morning call of our period. I will not pretend to relate all that I saw after stepping off the veranda; suffice it that the spire and chancel of the beautiful old church in which Shakespeare is buried, with the Avon sweeping it's base, were an incidental feature of my vision. Then there were the smoothest lawns in the world stretching down to the edge of this lovely stream, and making, where the water touched them, a line as even as the rim of a champagne glass—-a line near which you inevitably lingered to see the spire and the chancel—-the church was close at hand—-among the well grouped trees, and look for their reflection in the river. The place was a garden of delight; it was a stage set for one of Shakespeare's comedies—-for “Twelfth Night” or “Much Ado.” Just across the river was a level meadow which rivalled the lawn on which I stood, and this meadow seemed only the more essentially a part of the scene by reason of the richly fleeced sheep that were grazing on it. These sheep were by no means mere edible mutton; they were poetic, historic, romantic sheep; they were there to be picturesque, and they knew it. And yet, knowing as they were, I doubt whether the wisest old ram of the flock could have told me how to explain why it was that this happy mixture of lawn, and river, and mirrored spire, and blooming garden, seemed to me for a quarter of an hour the prettiest corner of England.

If Warwickshire is Shakespeare's country, I found myself remembering that it is also George Eliot's. The author of “Adam Bede” and “Middlemarch” has called the rural background of those admirable fictions by another name, but I believe it long ago ceased to be a secret that her native Warwickshire had been in her mind's eye. The stranger who wanders over it's ruffled surface recognizes at every turn the elements of George Eliot's novels—-especially when he carries himself back in imagination to the Warwickshire of forty years ago. He says to himself that it would be impossible to conceive anything more conservatively bucolic, more respectably pastoral. It was in one of the old nestling farmhouses, beyond a hundred hedgerows, that Hetty Sorrel smiled into her milk pans, as if she were looking for a reflection of her pretty face; it was at the end of one of the leafy pillared avenues that poor Mrs. Casaubon paced up and down in fervid disappointment. The county suggests, in especial, both the social and the natural scenery of “Middlemarch.” There must be many a genially perverse old Mr. Brooke there yet, and whether there are many Dorotheas or not, there must be many a well-featured and well-acred young country gentleman, of the pattern of Sir James Chettam, who, as he rides along the leafy lanes, softly cudgels his brain to know why a clever girl shouldn't wish to marry him. But I doubt whether there are many Dorotheas, and I suspect that the Sir James Chettams of the county are not often pushed to that intensity of meditation. You feel, however, that George Eliot could not have placed her heroine in a local medium better fitted to throw her fine impatience into relief—-a community more likely to be startled and perplexed by a questioning attitude in a well-housed and well-fed young gentlewoman.

Among the very agreeable days that I spent in these neighbourhoods, there is one in especial of which I should like to give a detailed account. But I find on consulting my memory that the details have melted away into the single deep impression of a picturesqueness which no poor words of mine can hope to reproduce. It was a long excursion, by rail and by carriage, for the purpose of seeing three extremely interesting old country houses. Our errand led us, in the first place, into Oxfordshire, through the ancient market town of Banbury, where of course we made a point of looking out for the Cross referred to in the famous nursery rhyme. It stood there in the most natural manner—-though I am afraid it has been “restored”—-with various antique gables around it, from one of whose exiguous windows the young person appealed to in the rhyme may have witnessed the interesting spectacle which the latter commemorates. The houses we went to see have not a national reputation; and to quote that modest person to whom it was remarked that he was really the best man in the world, I have no doubt that there are a hundred more just as good. They have, indeed, a local reputation, but they are not thought to be very exceptionally curious or beautiful, and I imagine that to indulge regarding them in too demonstrative an admiration would be to seem almost as puzzling and startling as Dorothea Brooke. Such places, to a Warwickshire mind of good habits, must appear to be the pillars and props of a heaven-appointed order of things; and accordingly, in a land on which heaven smiles, their grassy foundations must often be encountered. But nothing could well give a stranger a stronger impression of the wealth of England in such matters—-of the interminable list of her ancient territorial homes—-than this fact that the enchanting old mansions I speak of should have but a limited renown—-should not be lions of the first magnitude. Of one of them, the finest of the group, one of my companions, who lived but twenty miles away, had never even heard. Such a place was not thought a matter to boast about. It's peers and it's mates are scattered all over the country; half of them are not even mentioned in the county guide-books. You stumble upon them in a drive or a walk. You catch a glimpse of an ivied façade at the midmost point of a great estate, and taking your way, by leave of a decent faced old woman at a lodge gate, along a thickly shadowed avenue, you find yourself confronted with an edifice so comfortably picturesque that it seems to gather up into it's aspect all the domestic repose and material luxury that you may ever have dreamed of or envied.

To Broughton castle, the first seen in this beautiful trio, I must do no more than allude; but this is not because I failed to think it the most delightful residence in England. It lies rather low, and it's woods and pastures slope down to it; it has a deep, clear moat all around it, spanned by a bridge that passes under a charming old gate-tower, and nothing can be prettier than to see it's clustered walls of soft-toned yellow-brown stone thus picturesquely islanded, while it's gardens bloom on the other side of the water. Like several other houses in this part of the country, Broughton castle played a part (on the Parliamentary side) in the civil wars, and not the least interesting features of it's beautiful interior are the several mementoes of Cromwell's station there. It was within a moderate drive of this place that in 1642 the battle of Edgehill was fought—-the first great battle of the war—-and gained by neither party. We went to see the battlefield, where an ancient tower and an artificial ruin (of all things in the world) have been erected for the entertainment of convivial visitors. These ornaments are perched upon the edge of a slope which commands a view of the exact scene of the contest, upward of a mile away. I looked in the direction indicated, and saw misty meadows, a little greener perhaps than usual, and colonnades of elms, a trifle denser. After this we paid our respects to another old house which is full of memories and suggestions of that most dramatic period of English history. But of Compton Wyniates (the name of this enchanting domicile) I despair of giving any coherent or adequate account. It belongs to the Marquis of Northampton, and it stands empty all the year round. It sits on the grass at the bottom of a wooded hollow, and the glades of a superb old park go wandering upward, away from it. When I came out in front of the house from a short and steep but stately avenue, I said to myself that here surely we had arrived at the furthest limits of what old, ivy-smothered brick-work, and weather-beaten gables, and mullioned casements, and clustered, mossy roofs, can accomplish for the eye. It is impossible to imagine a more perfect picture. And it's air of solitude and delicate decay—-of having been dropped into it's grassy hollow as an ancient jewel is deposited upon a cushion, and being shut in from the world and back into the past by it's circling woods—-all this highly increased it's impressiveness. The house is not large, as great houses go, and it sits, as I have said, upon the grass without even a flagging or a foot-path to conduct you from the point where the avenue stops to the beautiful sculptured doorway which admits you into the small, quaint inner court. From this court you are at liberty to pass into a generous succession of oaken halls and chambers, adorned with treasures of old wainscotting, and carving of door and chimney-piece. Outside you may walk all round the house on a grassy bank which is raised above the level on which it stands, and find it from every point of view more deliciously picturesque. I should not omit to mention that Compton Wyniates is supposed to have been in Scott's eye when he described the dwelling of the old royalist knight in “Woodstock.” In this case he simply transferred the house to the other side of the county. He has indeed given several of the features of the place, but he has not given what one may call it's colour. I must add that if Sir Walter could not give the colour of Compton Wyniates, it is useless for any other writer to attempt it. It is a matter for the brush and for the hand of some very clever water-colourist.

And what shall I say of the “colour” of Wroxton Abbey, which we visited last in order, and which in the thickening twilight, as we approached it's great ivy-muffled front, made an ineffaceable impression on my fancy? Wroxton Abbey as it stands is a house of about the same period as Compton Wyniates—-the latter years, I suppose, of the sixteenth century. But it is quite another affair. This is one of the haunts of ancient peace that Tennyson talks of, if there ever was one. The place is inhabited, “kept up,” and full of the most interesting and most splendid detail. It's happy occupants, however, were fortunately not actually staying there (happy occupants, in England, are almost always absent), and the house was exhibited with a civility worthy of it's admirable beauty. Everything that in the material line can make life noble and charming has been gathered up into it with that profusion that one can find only in a great English “territorial” dwelling. As I wandered from one stately room to another, looking at these things, that ineffaceable impression upon my fancy that I just mentioned was delightfully deepened. But who can tell the pleasures of fancy when fancy takes her ease in an old English country house, while the twilight darkens the corners of picturesque chambers, and the appreciative intruder, pausing at the window, turns his glance from the mellow-toned portrait of a handsome ancestral face, and sees the great, soft billows of the lawn melt away into the park?

 
 
 

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