BLAKESMOOR IN H----SHIRE
I DO not know a pleasure more affecting than to range at
will over the deserted apartments of some fine old family
mansion. The traces of extinct grandeur admit of a better
passion than envy: and contemplations on the great and good,
whom we fancy in succession to have been its inhabitants, weave
for us illusions, incompatible with the bustle of modern occupancy,
and vanities of foolish present aristocracy. The same difference
of feeling, I think, attends us between entering an empty and a
crowded church. In the latter it is chance but some present
human frailty -- an act of inattention on the part of some of the
auditory -- or a trait of affectation, or worse, vain-glory on that
of the preacher -- puts us by our best thoughts, disharmonising
the place and the occasion. But would'st thou know the beauty
of holiness ? -- go alone on some week-day, borrowing the keys
of good Master Sexton, traverse the cool aisles of some country
church: think of the piety that has kneeled there -- the congregations,
old and young, that have found consolation there -- the
meek pastor -- the docile parishioner. With no disturbing
emotions, no cross conflicting comparisons, drink in the tranquillity
of the place, till thou thyself become as fixed and
motionless as the marble effigies that kneel and weep around
Journeying northward lately, I could not resist going some
few miles out of my road to look upon the remains of an old
great house with which I had been impressed in this way in
infancy. I was apprised that the owner of it had lately pulled
it down: still I had a vague notion that it could not all have
perished, that so much solidity with magnificence could not have
been crushed all at once into the mere dust and rubbish which
I found it.
The work of ruin had proceeded with a swift hand indeed,
and the demolition of a few weeks had reduced it to -- an
I was astonished at the indistinction of everything. Where
had stood the great gates? What bounded the court-yard?
Whereabout did the out-houses commence? a few bricks only
lay as representatives of that which was so stately and so
Death does not shrink up his human victim at this rate. The
burnt ashes of a man weigh more in their proportion.
Had I seen these brick-and-mortar knaves at their process of
destruction, at the plucking of every pannel I should have felt the
varlets at my heart. I should have cried out to them to spare
a plank at least out of the cheerful store-room, in whose hot
window-seat I used to sit and read Cowley, with the grass-plat
before, and the hum and flappings of that one solitary wasp that
ever haunted it about me -- it is in mine ears now, as oft as summer
returns; or a pannel of the yellow room.
Why, every plank and pannel of that house for me had magic
in it, The tapestried bed-rooms -- tapestry so much better than
painting -- not adorning merely, but peopling the wainscot -- at
which childhood ever and anon would steal a look, shifting its
coverlid (replaced as quickly) to exercise its tender courage in
a momentary eye-encounter with those stern bright visages, staring
reciprocally -- all Ovid on the walls, in colours vivider than his
descriptions. Actaeon in mid sprout, with the unappeasable
prudery of Diana, and the still more provoking, and almost
culinary coolness of Dan Phoebus, eel-fashion, deliberately divesting
Then, that haunted room -- in which old Mrs. Battle died --
whereinto I have crept, but always in the day-time, with a passion
of fear, and a sneaking curiosity, terror-tainted, to hold communication
with the past. -- How shall they build it up again?
It was no old deserted place, yet not so long deserted but that
traces of the splendour of past inmates were everywhere apparent.
Its furniture was still standing -- even to the tarnished gilt leather
battledores, and crumbling feathers of shuttlecocks in the nursery,
which told that children had once played there. But I was a
lonely child, and had the range at will of every apartment, knew
every nook and corner, wondered and worshipped everywhere.
The solitude of childhood is not so much the mother of thought,
as it is the feeder of love, and silence, and admiration. So strange
a passion for the place possessed me in those years that, though
there lay -- I shame to say how few roods distance from the mansion
-- half hid by trees, what I judged some romantic lake, such was
the spell which bound me to the house, and such my carefulness
not to pass its strict and proper precincts, that the idle waters
lay unexplored for me, and not till late in life, curiosity prevailing
over elder devotion, I found, to my astonishment, a pretty brawling
brook had been the Lacus Incognitus of my infancy. Variegated
views, extensive prospects -- and those at not great distance
from the house -- I was told of such -- what were they to me, being
out of the boundaries of my Eden? So far from a wish to roam,
I would have drawn, methought, still closer the fences of my chosen
prison, and have been hemmed in by a yet securer cincture of
those excluding garden walls. I could have exclaimed with that
garden-loving poet --
Bind me, ye woodbines, in your 'twines,
I was here as in a lonely temple. Snug firesides -- low-built
roof-parlours ten feet by ten -- frugal boards, and all the homeliness
of home -- these were the condition of my birth -- the wholesome
soil which I was planted in. Yet, without impeachment to
their tenderest lessons, I am not sorry to have had glances of
something beyond; and to have taken, if but a peep, in childhood,
at the contrasting accidents of a great fortune.
Curl me about, ye gadding vines,
And oh so close your circles lace
That I may never leave this place
But, lest your fetters prove too weak,
Ere I your silken bondage break,
Do you, O brambles chain me too,
And, courteous briars, nail me through!
To have the feeling of gentility, it is not necessary to have been
born gentle. The pride of ancestry may be had on cheaper terms
than to be obliged to an importunate race of ancestors; and the
coat less antiquary in his unemblazoned cell, revolving the long line
of a Mowbray's or DeClifford's pedigree, at those sounding names
may warm himself into as gay a vanity as those who do inherit
them. The claims of birth are ideal merely, and what herald shall
go about to strip me of an idea? Is it trenchant to their swords?
can it be hacked off as a spur can? or torn away like a tarnished
What, else, were the families of the great to us? what pleasure
should we take in their tedious genealogies, or their capitulatory
brass monuments? What to us the uninterrupted current of their
bloods, if our own did not answer within us to a cognate and
Or wherefore, else, O tattered and diminished `Scutcheon that
hung upon the time-worn walls of thy princely stairs, BLAKESMOOR!
have I in childhood so oft stood poring upon thy mystic characters
-- thy emblematic supporters, with their prophetic "Resurgam" --
till, every dreg of peasantry purging off, I received into myself
Very Gentility? Thou wert first in my morning eyes; and of
nights, hast detained my steps from bedward, till it was but a step
from gazing at thee to dreaming on thee.
This is the only true gentry by adoption; the veritable change
of blood, and not, as empirics have fabled, by transfusion.
Who it was by dying that had earned the splendid trophy, I
know not, I inquired not; but its fading rags, and colours cobweb-stained,
told that its subject was of two centuries back.
And what if my ancestor at that date was some Damoetas
feeding flocks, not his own, upon the hills of Lincoln -- did I in
less earnest vindicate to myself the family trappings of this once
proud Aegon ? -- repaying by a backward triumph the insults he
might possibly have heaped in his life-time upon my poor pastoral
If it were presumption so to speculate, the present owners of
the mansion had least reason to complain. They had long forsaken
the old house of their fathers for a newer trifle; and I was
left to appropriate to myself what images I could pick up, to raise
my fancy, or to soothe vanity.
I was the true descendent of those old W----s; and not the
present family of that name, who had fled the old waste places.
Mine was that gallery of good old family portraits, which as
I have gone over, giving them in fancy my own family name, one
-- and then another -- would seem to smile, reaching forward from
the canvas, to recognise the new relationship; while the rest looked
grave, as it seemed, at the vacancy in their dwelling, and thoughts
of fled posterity.
That beauty with the cool blue pastoral drapery, and a lamb --
that hung neat the great bay window -- with the bright yellow
H----shire hair, and eye of watchet hue -- so like my Alice! -- I am
persuaded she was a true Elia -- Mildred Elia, I take it.
Mine too, BLAKESMOOR, was thy noble Marble Hall, with its
mosaic pavements, and its Twelve Caesars -- stately busts in marble
ranged round: of whose countenances, young reader of faces as I
was, the frowning beauty of Nero, I remember, had most of my
wonder but the mild Galba had my love. There they stood in the
coldness of death, yet freshness of immortality.
Mine too, thy lofty Justice Hall, with its one chair of authority,
high-backed and wickered, once the terror of luckless poacher, or
self-forgetful maiden -- so common since, that bats have roosted in it.
Mine too -- whose else ? -- thy costly fruit-garden, with its sun-baked
southern wall; the ampler pleasure-garden, rising backwards
from the house in triple terraces, with flower-pots now of palest
lead, save that a speck here and there, saved from the elements, bespake
their pristine state to have been gilt and glittering; the
verdant quarters backwarder still; and, stretching still beyond, in
old formality, thy firry wilderness, the haunt of the squirrel, and the
day-long murmuring woodpigeon, with that antique image in the
centre, God or Goddess I wist not; but child of Athens or old Rome
paid never a sincerer worship to Pan or to Sylvanus in their native
groves, than I to that fragmental mystery.
Was it for this, that I kissed my childish hands too fervently in
your idol worship, walks and windings of Blakesmoor! for this, or
what sin of mine, has the plough passed over your pleasant places?
I sometimes think that as men, when they die, do not die all, so of
their extinguished habitations there may be a hope -- a germ to be