Imágenes de páginas

died. A fine old place it is; and a picturesque road leads to it, winding through a tract called the Warren, between the high chalk cliffs, clothed with trees of all varieties, that for so many miles fence in the northern side of the Thames, and the lordly river itself, now concealed by tall elms, now open and shining in the full light of the summer sun. There is not such a flower-bank in Oxfordshire as Caversham Warren.

Our way, however, leads straight on. A few miles farther, and a turn to the right conducts us to one of the grand old village churches, which give so much of character to English landscape. A large and beautiful pile it is. The tower half-clothed with ivy, standing with its charming vicarage and its pretty vicarage-garden on a high eminence, overhanging one of the finest bends of the great river. A woody lane leads from the church to the bottom of the chalk-cliff, one side of which stands out from the road below, like a promontory, surmounted by the laurel hedges and flowery arbours of the vicarage-garden, and crested by a noble cedar of Lebanon. This is Shiplake church, famed far and near for its magnificent oak carving, and the rich painted glass of its windows, collected, long before such adornments were fashionable, by the fine taste of the late vicar, and therefore filled with the very choicest specimens of mediæval art, chiefly obtained from the remains of the celebrated Abbey of St. Bertin, near St. Omers, sacked during the first French Revolution. In this church Alfred Tennyson was married. Blessings be upon him ! I never saw the great poet in my life, but thousands who never may have seen him either, but who owe to his poetry the purest and richest intellectual enjoyment, will echo and re-echo the benison.

A little way farther, and a turn to the left leads to another spot consecrated by genius—Woodcot, where Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton passed the earlier years of his married life, and wrote several of his most powerful novels. I have always thought that the scenery of Paul Clifford caught some of its tone from that wild and beautiful country, for wild and beautiful it is. The terrace in the grounds commands a most extensive prospect; and beneath a clump of trees on the common behind the house, is the only spot where on a clear day Windsor may be seen on one side, and Oxford on the other—-looking almost like the domes and towers and pinnacles that sometimes appear in the clouds—a fairy picture that the next breeze may waft away! This beautiful residence stands so high, that one of its former possessors, Admiral Fraser (grandfather to that dear friend of mine who is the present owner) could discover Woodcot Clump from the mast of his own ship at Spithead, a distance of sixty miles.

Wyfold's Court, another pretty place a little farther on, which also belonged once to a most dear friend, possesses the finest wych-elms in England. Artists come from far and near to paint these stately trees, whose down-dropping branches and magnificent height are at once so graceful and so rich. They are said always to indicate ecclesiastical possession, but no trace of such dependency is to be found in the titledeeds, or in the tenure by which in feudal times the lands were held—that of presenting a rose to the King, should he pass by a certain road on a May day.


And now

we approach Rotherfield Grays—its bowery lanes, its wild rugged commons, and its vast beech woods, from the edge of which projects, every here and there, a huge cherry-tree, looking, in the blossoming spring-time, as if carved in ivory, so exquisite is the whiteness, casting upon the ferny-turf underneath showers of snowy petals that blanch the very ground, and diffusing around an almond-like odour, that mingles with the springing thyme and the flowering gorse, and loads the very air with its balm.

Exquisite is the pleasantness of these beech woods, where the light is green from the silky verdure of the young leaves, and where the mossy woodpaths are embroidered with thousands of flowers, from the earliest violet and primrose, the wood-anemone, the wood-sorrel, the daffodil, and the wild hyacinth of spring, to the wood-vetch, the woodroof, the campanulas, and the orchises of summer ;—for all the English orchises are here: that which so curiously imitates the dead oak leaf, that again which imitates the human figure; the commonest but most pretty bee orchis, and the parallel ones which are called after the spider, the frog, and the fly. Strange freak of nature, thus, in a lower order of creation, to mimic her own handyworks in a higher !—to mimic even our human mimicry !--for that which is called the man orchis is most like the imitation of a human figure that a child might cut from coloured paper. Strange, strange mimicry! but full of variety, full of beauty, full of odour. Of all the fragrant blossoms that haunt the woods, I know none so exquisite as that night-scented orchis which is called indifferently,

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

the butterfly or the lily of the valley. Another glory of these woods, an autumnal glory, is the whole fungus tribe, various and innumerable as the mosses ; from the sober drab.coloured fungi, spotted with white, which so much resemble a sea-egg, to those whose deep and gorgeous hues would shame the tinting of an Indian shell. Truffles, too, are found beneath the earth ; and above it are deposited huge masses of the strange compound called in modern geological phrase Agglomerate. Flint and coral, and gravel, and attrited pebbles enter into the combination of this extraordinary natural conglomeration, which no steel, however hardened, can separate, and which seems to have been imitated very successfully by the old builders in their cements and the substances used in the filling up of their grandest structures, as may be seen in the layers which unite the enormous slabs of granite in the Roman walls at Silchester, as well as in the works of the old monkish architects at Reading Abbey. Another beauty of this country is to be found in the fields--now of the deepred clover, with its shining crimson tops, now of the gay and brilliant saintfoin (the holy hay), the bright, pink of whose flowery spikes gives to the ground the look of a bed of roses.

And now we reach the gate that admits us down a steep descent to the Rectory-house, a large substantial mansion, covered with Banksia roses, and finely placed upon a natural terrace-a fertile valley below, and its own woods and orchard-trees above.

My friend the rector, raciest of men, is an Oxford divine of the old school; a ripe scholar; one who has travelled wide and far, and is learned in the


[ocr errors]

tongues, the manners, and the literature of many nations; but who is himself English to the backbone in person, thought, and feeling. Orthodox is he, no doubt. Nowhere are church and schools, and parish visitings, better cared for; but he has a knack of attending also to the creature comforts of all about him, of calling beef and blankets in aid of his precepts, which have a wonderful effect in promoting their efficacy. Mansion and man are large alike, and alike overflowing with hospitality and kindliness. His original and poignant conversation is so joyous and good-humoured, the making everybody happy is so evidently his predominant taste, that the pungency only adds to the flavour of his talk, and never casts a moment's shade over its sunny heartiness. *

Right opposite the Rectory terrace, framed like a picture by the rarest and stateliest trees, stands the object of my pilgrimage, Grays' Court, a comparatively modern house, erected amongst the remains of a vast old castellated mansion, belonging first to the noble family of Gray, who gave their name, not merely to the manor, but to the district; then to the house of Knollys; and latterly to the Stapletons, two venerable ladies of that name being its present possessors.

All my life I had heard of Grays' Court; of the rich yet wild country in which it is placed ; of the park so finely undulated, and so profusely covered by magnificent timber; of the huge old towers which seem to guard and sentinel the present house; of the

* Since this passage was written my kind and valued friend is

no more,

« AnteriorContinuar »