Pleasant Memories of Pleasant Lands/Chatsworth and Haddon Hall

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
 

CHATSWORTH AND HADDON HALL.


Our morning ride, in a postchaise, from Sheffield, through Edenson and the adjacent region to Chatsworth, under a pure autumnal sky, was intensely beautiful. We were scarcely prepared for the display of taste and magnificence that burst upon us at the last-named princely establishment of the Duke of Devonshire. It seemed a hollow square of nearly two hundred feet, boldly terraced, and was approached over gradually rising grounds. From an eminence towards the east, the old Hunting Tower held forth a streaming flag, as an announcement that the master of this unrivalled mansion was at home. Immediately after entering the central gate, by the porter's lodge, we paused to admire a fine weeping ash, whose rich, dark foliage, drooping to the ground, forms within its circumference an arch of exceeding beauty. It was removed hither from Derby, about ten years since, at an expense of £1,000; and though it had attained the age of forty years ere its transplantation, flourishes unchanged in its new home. Large flocks and herds luxuriate in the pastures, and deer, so fat as to forfeit a portion of their fleetness, embellish the parks. The grounds of Chatsworth cover an area of eleven miles, diversified by lawns, plantations, and pleasure-grounds. The spot called the Italian Gardens, is adorned with statues, and vases, and a rich stone balustrade, fronting the Derwent.

It would be in vain to attempt a description of this splendid establishment. Dazzled as the eye may be with its internal decorations, I could not but consider the conservatory as its chief glory. It extends several hundred feet, its lofty roof resting on iron pillars, and entirely covered with large plates of glass, furnishing a spacious carriage-drive through plants and flowers from every region of the earth. Some of these are of surpassing beauty, and all refreshed by waters artificially distributed, and cheered by a perpetual summer, as if a second Paradise fostered their bloom.

In the sculpture-gallery at Chatsworth, among noble forms, and groups apparently instinct with life, we were attracted by the statue of a young spinning-girl, from the chisel of a German artist. She is called the Filatrice, and stands in a simple and graceful attitude upon the fragment of a granite column, brought from the Roman forum. Extensive collections of paintings, engravings, and other works of art, enrich this residence, as they do also that at Chiswick, another seat of this tasteful and liberal nobleman, where, among other antique specimens of sculpture, are three statues from Adrian's villa at Rome.

It is well to see Chatsworth and Haddon Hall in the same day. The contrast of their features deepens the impression which each leaves on the mind. The overwhelming splendor of one prepares you to relish and to reverence the silent, mournful majesty of the other. You pass as from a Roman triumph, to Marius sitting among the ruins of Carthage.

This touching relic of the olden time occupies an elevation, overshadowed by large trees, from whence it looks down upon the fair valley and bright waters of the Wye. Its most ancient portions date back nine hundred years, into the Saxon dynasty. William, the Norman, who was liberal in parcelling out the good things of the conquered realm among his own relatives and adherents, gave it to his natural son, Peveril. Thence, by marriage, it passed to the Vernons, and again, in the same manner, to the house of Manners, who now hold the dukedom of Rutland. In exploring its deserted halls, it is easy to scan three distinct styles of architecture, which as clearly define three differing states of social and domestic manners. The tall gray Eagle Tower, with its round loopholes and prison-like apartments, recalls those days of despotism and danger, when castellated buildings were fortresses of defence against the Danish pirate, or the roaming outlaw. This period extended from the close of the Saxon dynasty, through the reigns of some of the Plantagenets, while the Peverils and Avenels bore rule at Haddon Hall. Huge fire-places, immense larders, chopping-blocks on which a whole ox might be laid, heavy oak tables, and the old wicket, through which every stranger received, if he desired, a trencher of substantial food and a cup of ale, mark the succeeding era of rude feasting and free hospitality. The third epoch brought in the more lofty ceilings, richly gilt, the halls panelled with oak, the carved cornices, and the bay windows, decorated with armorial bearings.

The state bed-room at Haddon Hall is still adorned with ancient hangings of Gobelines. Their subjects seem to be taken from the imagery of Æsop's Fables. The bed is surmounted by a canopy of green silk velvet, fourteen feet in height, and lined with thick, white satin. Its embroidered curtains were wrought by the needle of the Lady Eleanor, wife of Sir Robert Manners, and are a commendable trophy of her industry. But the hands of pilferers have been so busy in abstracting shreds and fragments of this rich, antique couch, that it has been found necessary to protect it by an enclosure, something like the railing erected around the bed of Mary of Scotland, in the old Holyrood palace.

The various improvements made by the houses of Vernon and Manners may be plainly traced. The first of these obtained possession of this time-honored structure in the time of Henry the Sixth, and the latter, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. So liberal was the housekeeping of Haddon, that one hundred and forty servants were employed and maintained there by the first duke of Rutland, in the time of Queen Anne. Now all is silence and loneliness within its bounds. Two hundred years have elapsed since it was inhabited. But the late Duchess of Rutland, having been much attached to its scenery, was solicitous that it should be kept in good preservation, as a specimen of other days. Her wishes have been scrupulously obeyed, and thus the antiquarian taste, and the reflecting mind, continue to find high gratification from a visit to this deserted mansion.


I've heard the humid skies did ever weep
In merry England, and a blink of joy
From their blue eyes was like a pearl of price.
Mine own, indeed, are sunnier, yet at times
There comes a day so exquisitely fair,
That with its radiance and its rarity
It makes the senses giddy.
Such an one
Illumined Chatsworth, when we saw it first,
Set like a gem against the hanging woods
That formed its background. Herds of graceful deer,
Pampered, perchance, until they half forgot
Their native fleetness, o'er the ample parks
Roamed at their pleasure. From the tower that crests
The eastern hill, a floating banner swayed
With the light breezes, while a drooping ash,
Of foliage rich, stood lonely near the gates,
Like the presiding genius of the place,
Uniquely beautiful. Their silver jet
The sparkling fountains o'er the freshened lawns
Threw fitfully, and gleaming here and there,
The tenant-statues with their marble life
Peopled the shades.
But, wondering most, we marked
A princely labyrinth of plants and flowers,
All palace-lodged, and breathing forth their sweets
On an undying summer's balmy breast.
And well might wealth expend itself for you,
Flowers, glorious flowers! that dwelt in Eden's bound,
Yet sinned not, fell not, and whose silent speech
Is of a better Paradise, where ye,
Catching the essence of the deathless soul,
Shall never fade.
Throughout the noble pile
Pictures and spars and vases, and the show
Of alabaster, porphyry, and gold,
Blend with a lavishness that ne'er offends
The eye of taste. Had I the skill to tell
Featly of halls, that like Arabia's dream
O'erflow with all that Fancy can devise,
To strike, to charm, to dazzle, and delight,
Here were full scope. But I have dwelt too long
Within a simple forest-land, to know
The fitting terms for such magnificence.
So, from the painted ceilings, and the light
Of costly mirrors, 't was relief to seek
The shaded gallery of sculptured forms,
And taste the luxury of musing thought.

Spin on, most beautiful!
There's none to mock
Thy humble labors here. Gay Cupid clasps
The unscathed butterfly, sweet Hebe smiles,
Latona, mid her children, cries to Jove,
Achilles mourns his wound, Endymion sleeps,
The Mother of Napoleon wears the grace
Canova gave, and proud Borghesa rears
Her head in majesty, yet none despise
Thy lowly toil.
Even thus it was of old,
That woman's hand, amid the elements
Of patient industry, and household good,
Reproachless wrought, twining the slender thread
From the slight distaff, or in skilful loom
Weaving rich tissues, or with varied tints
Of bright embroidery, pleased to decorate
The mantle of her lord. And it was well;
For in such sheltered and congenial sphere
Content with duty dwelt.
Yet few there were,
Sweet Filatrice, who in their homely task
Found such retreat or goodly company,
To dignify their toils. And we, who roam
Mid all this grand enchantment, proud saloon,
And solemn chapel, with its voice of God,
Or lose ourselves amid the wildering maze
Of plants and buds and blossoms, uttering forth
Mute eloquence to Him, are pleased to lay
Our slight memorial at thy snowy feet.

Now, on to Haddon Hall. The postern low,
And threshold, worn with tread of many feet,
Receive us silently. How grim and gray
Yon tall, steep fortalice above us towers!
Its narrow apertures, like arrow-slits,
Jealous of heaven's sweet air, its dreary rooms
Floored with rough stones, its uncouth passages
Cut in thick walls, bespeak those iron times
Of despotism, when o'er the mountain-surge
Rode the fierce sea-king, and the robber hedged
The chieftain in his moat.
A freer style
Of architecture, clearly as a chart,
Defines the isthmus of that middle state,
After the Conquest, when the Saxon kernes
With their elf-locks receded. Coarsely mixed,
Norman with Gothic, stretch the low-browed halls,
Their open rafters brown with curling smoke.
Hearthstone and larder, as for giant race,
Tell of rude, festal doings, when in state
The stalwart baron, seated on the dais,
Serf and retainer fitly ranged around,
Gave hospitality at Christmas-tide;—
The roasted ox, the boar, with holly crowned,
And mighty venison pasty, proudly borne
'Tween a stout brace of ancient serving-men.
The elements of rude and gentle times
Were ill concocted then, and struggling held
Each other in suspension, or prevailed
Alternately. "Barbaric pearl and gold"
Were roughly set; and cumbrous arras hid
The iron-hasped and loosely-bolted doors.
Broad-branching antlers of the stag were then
The choicest pictures, and the power to quaff
Immense potations from the wassail-bowl
Envied accomplishment.
But Haddon tells
Still of another age, and suits itself
To their more courtly manners. Carvings rich,
And gilded cornices, and chambers hung
With tapestry of France, and shapely grate
Instead of chimney vast, and fair recess
Of oriel window, mark the advancing steps
Of comfort and refinement.
Here moved on,
In stately minuet, lords with doublet slashed,
And ladies rustling in the stiff brocade;
And there, the deep-mouthed hounds the chase pursued,
The maiden ruling well her palfrey white,
With knight and squire attendant.
Hear we not
Even now their prancing steeds?
'T is passing strange!
Dwell death and life in mystic company?
Do hands invisible, of spectres pale
Tend these young plants, and bind yon straggling boughs
In beautiful obedience?
—Come they back,
From their old mouldering vaults, when none are near,
And with their spirit-eyes inspect the flowers
That once they loved? Toil they in shadowy ranks
Mid these deserted bowers, then flit away?
They seem but just to have set the goblet down,
As for a moment, yet return no more.
The chair, the board, the couch of state are here,
And we, the intrusive step are fain to check,
As though we pressed upon their privacy.
Whose privacy? The dead? A riddle all!
Yea,—we ourselves are riddles.
While we cling
Still to our crumbling hold, so soon to fall
And be forgotten, in that yawning gulph
That whelms all past, all present, all to come,
Oh, grant us wisdom, Father of the Soul,
To win a changeless heritage with thee.