« PreviousContinue »
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. Conceive 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 cf 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 nature-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. 6d.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
Of good Haroun Alraschid."
* See the "Stowe Catalogue, priced and annotated, by Henry Rumsey Forster." London, 1848.
Ver. 78. Nor in an hermitage set Dr. Clarke.] Dr. Samuel Clarke, the learned Low Church divine, was a special favourite with Queen Caroline, as he had previously been with Queen Anne. He was distinguished as a man of science, a scholar, and a divine. When barely of age he had at Cambridge contributed to diffuse a knowledge of the Newtonian system, for which purpose he translated Rohault's Physics for the use of students. He afterwards
translated Newton's Optics into Latin, for which Sir Isaac gave him £500. His classical and philological labours consisted in editing Cæsar's Commentaries, and the first twelve books of Homer, with a Latin version. His works on theological subjects were numerous, and not all orthodox. His Sermons on the Being and Attributes of the Deity, and on Natural and Revealed Religion, exhibited him as a close and powerful reasoner, though many objected to his argument a priori for the existence of a God. Another treatise, The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, was still more decidedly opposed, and became a subject of complaint in the lower House of Convocation. The upper house, however, interposed in his favour on his explaining away some of the most objectionable passages, and promising to write no more on those doctrines. Clarke had always a firm friend in Queen Caroline, and enjoyed the favour of the Court to the last. In 1727, on the death of Sir Isaac Newton, he was offered the place of Master of the Mint. He declined it as inconsistent with his profession, but Clarke would have been more appropriately set in such an office than in his rectory of St. James's. Bolingbroke had a strong aversion to this eminent divine-partly because he was a philosopher whom he could not confute, and partly because he was a favourite of the Queen. Fope shared in the same feeling, apparently without any personal cause for dislike.
Ver. 99. At Timon's villa let us pass a day.] This fine description, marked by such correct taste and thorough knowledge of the subject, and so striking for the pictures it contains, was universally considered to apply to Canons, the seat of the Duke of Chandos. A contemporary has given an account of this celebrated mansion:
"Near this town (Edgeware in Middlesex) the late Duke of Chandos built one of the most magnificent palaces in England, with a profusion of expense, and so well furnished within, that it had hardly its equal in England. The stucco and gilding were done by the famous Pargotti; the great hall was painted by Paolucci; the pillars were of marble; the great staircase was extremely fine, and the steps were all of marble, every step being of one whole piece, about twenty-two feet in length. The avenue was spacious and majestic; and as it gave you the view of two fronts, joined as it were in one, the distance not admitting you to see the angle, which was in the centre, so you were agreeably drawn in to think the front of the house almost twice as large
as it was. And yet when you came nearer you were again surprised by seeing the winding passage opening, as it were, a new front to the eye, of near 120 feet wide, which you had not seen before; so that you were lost awhile in looking near at hand for what you so plainly saw at a great distance. The gardens were well designed, and had a vast variety in them, and the canals were large and noble. The chapel was a singularity, both in its building and the beauty of its workmanship; and the late Duke at one time maintained there a full choir, and had the worship performed with the best music, after the manner of the Chapel Royal."1
The writer then adverts to the short duration of all this grandeur, the great founder of which, he says, was more to be pitied and even admired than blamed, having made a noble though ineffectual stand to prevent a more general ruin to the African Company, which he was at the head of, and which swallowed up the fortune of one of the most munificent and princely-spirited noblemen that ever adorned this nation.
In 1731, when Pope published this Epistle, the Duke's fortune was understood to be impaired, but he was still magnificent; he scattered about his money freely, and was a favourite with the nation. He far outshone Burlington, and even Cobham. Hence, when Pope's satire appeared, there was a general burst of indignation against the poet. He was accused of having wantonly and malignantly defamed one of the best of our nobles, who had entertained him sumptuously at Canons, and presented him with a bank-note for £500 as a subscription for one of his books. The latter statement Pope emphatically denied: he had never, he said, seen the Duke of Chandos but twice, and he never received any present farther than the subscription for Homer from him, or from any great man whatsoever. He was no less zealous in denying the public belief that Timon's Villa was designed to represent Canons. If there be truth in the world," he said, writing to Aaron Hill, "I declare to you I never imagined the least application of what I said of Timon could be made to the Duke of Chandos, than whom there is scarce a more blameless, worthy, and generous, beneficent character among all our nobility." Pope threw out a hint that Aaron Hill should take up his defence; it would have been a pleasure, he said, to have found some friend saying a word in his justification. Hill, however, did nothing. In his reply to Pope, he regretted the poet's "unguarded absence of caution" in this instance, and he remarked on the resemblance between the real and the poetical villa: "Such as the hundred footsteps, the exact number of his domestics for some years at Canons, and the pomp of the chapel and its music; for whether jiggish or solemn never struck the inquiry of a thousand who remembered the Duke's magnificence chiefly by that circumstance." A defence of Pope appeared in the newspapers in the form of a letter from Mr. Cleland to Mr. Gay, "written, says Warburton, "by the same hand that wrote the Letter to the Publisher prefixed to the Dunciad, and what hand that was, no one who reads this collection of letters can be at a loss to ascertain." Of course the hand was Pope's. A few weeks afterwards a pirated edition of the Epistle was published, with
* De Foe's Tour through Great Britain, continued by S. Richardson.
abusive notes, and with a frontispiece which told its tale more clearly than either the prose or verse of Welsted. This was a print, designed by Hogarth, representing Pope standing on a builder's high stage or platform, engaged in whitewashing the gate at Burlington-house, and at the same time bespattering the coach of the Duke of Chandos then passing by. Pope repeated his denial in still stronger terms in the Epistle to Arbuthnot, 1734, but neither the Duke himself nor the public were satisfied. The number of servants, as mentioned by Aaron Hill, the musical choir led by Handel, and the magnificence of the whole establishment at Canons, appeared to identify it with Timon's Villa.