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But fie upon that knave Death, that will come whether we will or not!" There are other monitors besides Death. Misfortune is also a stern instructor, and its dark shadow has been cast over the splendours of Stowe. Images of distress and spoliation, of folly repented too late, of baffled hopes, disappointed ambition, and all those “vultures of the mind” which prey upon haughty spirits amidst household wreck and desolation, now mingle with the glories of art and nature, and dim the lustre of the scene. Let us read the lesson in charity and tenderness. Let us not pursue the stricken deer, but rather exult in what is left of this marvellous combination still undestroyed in its essential features of natural beauty and magnificence.
The grounds of Stowe lie close to the town of Buckingham—one of the smallest and most decayed-looking county towns in England. The streets and red-tiled houses, the little gardens and orchards, were basking in the morning sun when we saw them in the autumn of 1848, when the great sale at Stowe took place. Few people were abroad-the place seemed a Sleepy Hollow, but the quiet streets, we were told, were occasionally made noisy by inroads of roystering students from Oxford, which is about twenty miles distant. The first glance at the Stowe grounds tells you
that you are approaching some fine patrician seat. A straight avenue of two miles, lined with a double row of trees, stretches before you; and at the end of the vista is seen a vast Corinthian arch or gateway, about sixty feet high, and as wide. Carriages and vehicles of all sorts pressed on towards the arch, and on the road were pedestrian groups, shaded from the dust and heat by the branching elms that form verdant alley on each side. The sale had made a holiday all the country round-simple folks coming to stare and wonder, the malicious to sneer, and the good-natured to regret. It is thus that the fates adjust the balance among the different classes of society. Every peasant in the county at that time felt himself to be a happier, and perhaps a wiser, man, than its great Duke. Arrived at the gate, we see the south, or garden front, of the house-a lofty and richly embellished structure, standing on a gentle eminence, with sloping flower-gardens, antique vases, sculptured figures, a portico of the most imposing form, Corinthian and Ionic columns, medallions, and other decorations, crowding on the view. The measurement of the front is above nine hundred feet, including a grand centre, two colonnades, and two pavilion wings. The approach to the portico is by a flight of thirty-one huge steps. Horace Walpole complained that there was no getting out of the house without descending a flight of steps as high as St. Paul's. The sarcasm is well founded. The ascent is laborious, reminding one how little comfort there is in magnificence. Glorious, however, to the eye and the fancy was the appearance of that great structure, its exquisite parterre, flower gardens, orangery, fountains, and sculptures--with the lawn, winding valléy, and river spreading out below.
We turned aside to reach the north front, where the sale was going on. The road passes through undulating grounds, amidst tall trees, and delicious greensward, over which the hares were running. The north front of the mansion is also an elaborate architectural work, with Ionic columns, open colonnades, and another gigantic flight of steps. But now the character of the scene was changed. At the foot of an equestrian statue of George the Second was a group of cottagers gazing on the building; other groups filled the walks. In one of the colonnades was a stall for the sale of fruits and beer. Pictures and artieles of furniture lay about ready for packing. Carpenters plied their hammers, and round the necks of the couchant lions on each side of the flight of stairs were hung placards, intimating that the parties who placed them there were ready to undertake the removal and conveyance of the purchased goods. Carriages, gigs, and led horses made up the bizarre picture-a sad contrast to the stately formality and palatial glory of Stowe! What a dispersion of works of art and virtù—of heir-looms centuries oldof objects consecrated by public and private associations! This was the last day of the sale of the pictures--the day of the great Rembrandt, the Cuyps, and Salvator Rosas; and an old grey-headed servant told us that the Duke expected that that day's sale would realize £40,000. The reality fell far short of this, for the whole sixty lots produced just 10,800 guineas. The collection of pictures, indeed, was but an inferior one for such a place. One second-rate Rembrandt, a negro armed with bow and arrow, was sold for 251 guineas; a finer specimen of the same master, 810 guineas; a Teniers, 240 guineas; a Claude, 125 guineas; two pictures by Albert Durer, 155 and 160 guineas; a noble Salvator, the Finding of Moses, 1000 guineas; and a Cuyp, 1470 guineas. A picture by Domenichino, the Sybilla Persica, was run up to 600 guineas. At the close came the grand Rembrandt-a very large picture : "The Unfaithful Servant brought before his Lord, between a Soldier and an aged Servant.” The work had the characteristic features and excel. lence of Rembrandt-his unrivalled management of light and shade, his strong truth and expression. It was put up at 1000 guineas, and the biddings went on to 1600, when one gentleman startled the rural gentry and the uninitiated by bidding at once 400 guineas more. It was now.at 2000, and it was ultimately sold for 2200 guineas. The sale 'over, Jew and Gentile left the magnificent saloon, with its pavement of Carrara marble, its sixteen Scagliola columns, and its alto-relievo cornice representing a Roman triumph —which magnificent apartment had been converted into the auction room. How bitterly and loftily would Pope have moralised on this scene of fallen greatness—if the prostrate lord of Stowe had been a Whig and a Hanoverian!
We wandered over the vast deserted house. Stripped of their costly furniture and embellishments, the state rooms and galleries appeared gaunt spectres of the past-phantoms of departed splendour. The family pictures and portraits huddled up in corners waiting removal, also told their tale. The Temples and Grenvilles were there in dozens. Sovereigns, peers, poets, and philosophers lay side by side. Pope and Addison fronted each other, forgetful of their quarrel. Charles the Second and Oliver Cromwell shared the same room. Henry the Eighth, in his slashed doublet, looked as fierce in the colours of Holbein as when he bearded pope and cardinal. Nell Gwynne, in yellow and blue, figured by the side of John Locke and Susannah” and the Elders. Suits of armour, shields and swords, lay about the rooms. Here was the sash of young Charles Edward, taken from his baggage after the battle of Culloden, which had been sold for forty guineas; and here were the badge and ribbon of the Order of the Bath worn by Sir Richard Temple at the coronation of Charles the Second. Much was said of a lock of hair, one of the tresses of the Princess Mary, daughter of Henry the Seventh, and successively the Queen of Louis XII. and the wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Brandon was the early playmate and lover of Mary, but bluff Harry, her brother, compelled her to marry Louis of France. After the death of Louis, Brandon, then Duke of Suffolk, appeared at the French Court with letters of condolence. The young widow met her former lover, and, disregarding all other offers, immediately married him. In reference to this royal match-who could omit mention of the incident?—the gallant duke appeared at a tournament, his saddle-cloth made half of frize, or coarse cloth, and half of cloth of gold, and each had its motto. One of these mottoes
“ Cloth of frize be not too bold
Though thou art match'd with cloth of gold.” And the other half bore,
“ Cloth of gold do not despise
Though thou art match'd with cloth of frize." This is a chivalrous incident-an illustration of Sir Philip Sidney's “high thoughts seated in a heart of courtesy." The Buckingham family is descended from the Princess Mary, by her marriage with Brandon. The tomb of Mary, in Bury Church, was opened in 1784, and a lock of her hair was taken from the skeleton. This precious lock, which seemed, as was said, to “ link the family of Buckingham with the throne of England,” was sold to a Bond Street dealer for £7 10s.
Of all the portraits at Stowe, the celebrated one of Shakspeare attracted most attention. Its history and transmission are somewhat doubtful, but it is believed to have once belonged to Sir William Davenant, and, subsequently, to Betterton, the actor. While in the possession of Betterton, a copy of it was painted by Kneller, for Dryden, who undoubtedly considered it a genuine likeness, and who has finely commemorated Kneller's copy:
Shakspeare, thy gift I place before my sight,
Proud to be less—but of his godlike race.” The epithet “majestic ” will hardly apply, for the highest expression of the portrait is that of calm seriousness. The stone of the Stratford-on-Avon bust has more life and animation than the Chandos picture, and there is little resemblance between them. It is, however, not unlike the engraving prefixed to the first folio of 1623. We are glad that the Chandos portrait has fallen into the hands of the Earl of Ellesmere-a liberal and tasteful collector, whose splendid gallery is so easily accessible. His lordship gave 355 guineas for the portrait.
From the pictures in the interior of Stowe, we now turned to those out of doors. Not Claude himself, with his woods and aerial perspective, nor Albano, with his groves and temples, imagined finer scenes than these gardens presented. The ornamental grounds occupy four or five hundred acres, and the circumference by the outside walk is about three miles. Con. ceive this large area shut in, as it were, from the busy world-secluded in perfect luxury. A mass of foliage forms the sky-line ; broad walks sweep around; the grounds are carpeted with the richest grass, now spreading into wide valleys, now rising into hills and mounds, and now scooped into dells and hollows. Here a light and airy scene expands before us, and there a dark and solemn grove or thicket. A lake, a river, and ornamental bridge -the latter a copy of the Wilton Bridge, designed by Palladio-further vary the grounds. Conceive all this huge verdant amphitheatre, diversified with lines and clumps of high and venerable trees, through the openings of which are seen fanes, temples, columns, and statues of elaborate structureeach section of the grounds being formed into a distinct and separate scene; in one place charming the spectator by softness and beauty, and in another elevating him by combinations of picturesqueness and sublimity. The perfection of art is seen in the disposition of the grounds--in their endless variety, connexion, and contrast. The buildings may seem to give an artificial and ostentatious character to the grounds, and some of them are in bad taste; but the pomp is pleasing; the whole is invested with a rich baronial magnificence. There are temples to Concord and Victory, to Venus and Bacchus, to Friendship, to Ancient Virtue, and to British Worthies. In the last of these was a bust of Pope, with the following inscription :
“ ALEXANDER POPE, who, uniting the correctness of judgment to the fire of genius, by the melody and power of his numbers gave sweetness to sense, and grace to philosophy. He employed the pointed brilliancy of wit to chastise the vices, and the eloquence of poetry to exalt the virtues of human nature; and, being without a rival in his own age, imitated and translated, with a spirit equal to the originals, the best Poets of Antiquity."
On a picturesque eminence stands a Gothic temple, its windows of stained glass sparkling in the sunshine amidst the quivering leaves, and its portico, turrets, and balustrades rising above a dark grove of alder, a dense shade impervious to the light. There are pavilions designed by Vanbrugh, a rotunda, a “Bourbon Tower,” and monuments to Congreve, to General Wolfe, to Captain Cook, and others. Through a Gothic arch we enter the “Elysian Fields,”—a lovely spot, finely wooded, watered by a clear sparkling stream, its smooth banks decorated with statues, and the whole wearing an aspect of elegance and gaiety. In another part, by the side of statues of Hercules and Antæus, we pass into the “ Fane of Pastoral Poetry," a valley with a forest scene, formed by extensive lawns of the park, bounded by old oaks. One spot, called the “Grecian Valley,” is of uncommon beauty and grandeur. Its declivities are covered with light woods and groves, and the open space is varied by detached trees of enormous magnitude. Among the other sights in the grounds are a hermitage, a pebble alcove, a cascade, artificial ruins, an altar, and urns. Many of these would be well away, but, in general effect, the multiplicity of objects in these different scenes, the variety of foliage, the water, and the number of landscapes presented, evince the
highest artistic skill. Amidst the classic sculptures in the flower gardens, we were surprised to find a touch of simple natare-a statue of a piper and his dog. How such a representation should be found in such company, under the shade of tulip trees, beside fauns and dancing nymphs, was at first a puzzle. The statue, however, is a fine work of art, executed by Gabriel Cibber, and its history is interesting. It represents the piper, described by De Foe in his History of the Plague, as having been taken up for dead in the street, and thrown into the dead-cart with other bodies to be buried; but who awakened from his trance just as the men were proceeding to throw him into the pit, and, after considerably alarming his bearers by sitting upright in the cart, and playing upon his pipes, recovered, and did well. This curious group was formerly at Whitton, the seat of the Duke of Argyll. The piper must have been a Campbell! It has now got a Shakspearian locality in the garden at Snitterfield, the seat of Mr. Mark Philips, in Warwickshire. We may just mention, that the sale of the effects at Stowe extended over forty days, and realised a total sum of £75,562 4s. 60.1
A history of Stowe gardens would be a history of the art of landscape gardening in England, from its first rude efforts, through various stages, to its gradual approximation to taste and nature. They were originally laid out by Bridgeman, then improved by Kent and Capability Brown, and, subsequently, freed of various imperfections and deformities by various artists. Kent exploded the stiff rectilinear style, the clipped hedges, cut yews, vegetable dragons, and other monstrosities of the former generation. He and Brown substituted clumps and belts of trees, artificial water, and smooth dressed banks. They carried this in some instances too far, not sufficiently consulting the “ genius of the place,” as Pope suggests. In their zeal for destroying the old formalities, they threw down terraces and antique ornaments, which added both grace and comfort to certain old baronial seats. Sir Uvedale Price, in his admirable work on the Picturesque, attacked Brown and his followers for their excessive devotion to clumps, and belts, and artificial water. Their perpetual line of beauty, and terminating points, were, he argued, as insipid as the artificial objects they condemned—and Price was right in the main. Their only merit was first directing public attention to more natural and simple combinations of beauty, which led the way to subsequent improvements. Stowe benefited by all these. Some artificial traits were left, because magnificence was the feature chiefly aimed at in their original formation. The natural beanty and amenity of the spot were heightened into grandeur, and elaborated into pictures, such as Poussin or Albano designed, or the vales of Italy and Greece might present. To wander among the rich and ever-varying landscapes, was like the realisation of a dream, or an Arabian tale :
“ Entranced with that place, and time
So worthy of the golden prime
* See the "Stowe Catalogue, priced and annotated, by Henry Rumsey Forster." London, 1848.