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First Impressions of England and its People
Chapter VIII


Abbotsford and the Leasowes.—The one place naturally suggestive of the other. — Shenstone. — The Leasowes his most elaborate Composition. — The English Squire and his Mill. —Hales Owen Abbey ; interesting, as the Subject of one of Shenstone’s larger Poems. — The old anti-Popish Feeling of England well exemplified by the Fact. — Its Origin and History. — Decline. — Infidelity naturally favorable to the Resuscitation and Reproduction of Popery. — The two Naileresses.— Cecilia and Delia. — Skeleton Description of the Leasowes. — Poetic filling up. — The Spinster. — The Fountain.

I had come to Hales Owen to visit the Leasowes, the patrimony which poor Shenstone converted into an exquisite poem, written on the green face of nature, with groves and thickets, cascades and lakes, urns, temples, and hermitages, for the characters. In passing southwards, I had seen from the coach-top the woods of Abbotsford, with the turrets of the mansion-house peeping over; and the idea of the trim-kept desolation of the place suggested to me that of the paradise which the poet of Hales Owen had, like Sir Walter, ruined himself to produce, that it, too, might become a melancholy desert. Nor was the association which linked Abbotsford to the Leasowes by any means arbitrary : the one place may be regarded as having in some degree arisen out of the other. “It had been,” says Sir Walter, in one of his prefaces, “an early wish of mine to connect myself with my mother earth, and prosecute those experiments by which a species of creative power is exercised over the face of nature. I can trace, even to childhood, a pleasure derived from Dodsley’s account of Shenstone’s Leasowes; and I envied the poet much more for the pleasure of accomplishing the objects detailed in his friend’s sketch of his grounds, than for the possession of pipe, crook, flock, and Phillis to hoot.”Alas!

Prudence sings to thoughtless hards in vain."

In contemplating the course of Shenstone, Sir Walter could see but the pleasures of the voyage, without taking note of the shipwreck in which it terminated; and so, in pursuing identically the same track, he struck on identically the same shoal.

I had been intimate from a very immature period with the writings of Shenstone. There are poets that require to be known early in life, if one would know them at all to advantage. They give real pleasure, but it is a pleasure which the mind outgrows; they belong to the “comfit and confectionary-plum” class; and Shenstone is decidedly one of the number. No mind ever outgrew the “Task,” or the “Paradise Lost,” or the dramas of Shakspeare, or the poems of Burns: they please in early youth; and, like the nature which they embody and portray, they continue to please in age. But the Langhorns, Wartons, Kirke Whites, Shelleys, Keatses,—shall I venture to say it? — Byrons, are flowers of the spring, and bear to the sobered eye, if one misses acquainting one’s self with them at the proper season, very much the aspect of those herbarium specimens of the botanist, which we may examine as matters of curiosity, hut scarce contemplate, — as we do the fresh uncropped flowers, with all their exquisite tints and delicious odors vital within them, — as the objects of an affectionate regard. Shenstone was one of the ten or twelve English poets whose works I had the happiness of possessing when a boy, and which, during some eight or ten years of my life, — for books at the time formed luxuries of difficult procurement, and I had to make the most of those I had,—I used to read over and over at the rate of about twice in the twelvemonth. And every time I read the poems, I was sure also to read Dodsley’s appended description of the Leasowes. I could never form from it any idea of the place as a whole : the imagery seemed broken up into detached slips, like the imagery of a magic lantern; but then nothing could be finer than the insulated slips ; and my mind was filled with gorgeous pictures, all fresh and bright, of “sloping groves,” “tufted knolls,” “wooded valleys,” “sequestered lakes,” and “noisy rivulets,” — of rich grassy lawns, and cascades that come bursting in foam from bosky hill-sides, — of monumental urns, tablets, and temples, — of hermitages and priories; and I had now come to see in what degree my conceptions, drawn from the description, corresponded with the original, if, indeed, the original still maintained the impress given it by the genius of Shenstone. His writings, like almost all poetic writings that do not please equally at sixteen and sixty, had stood their testing century but indifferently well. No one at least would now venture to speak of him as the “celebrated poet, whose divine elegies do honor to our nation, our language, and our species;” though such, sixty years ago, was the estimate of Burns, when engaged in writing his preface to an uncouth volume of poems first published at Kilmarnock, that promise to get over their century with much greater ease. On the “Leasowes,”—by far the most elaborate of all the compositions of its author, — the ingenious thinking of full twenty years had been condensed; and I was eager to ascertain whether it had not stood its testing century better, under the skyey influences, than “Ophelia’s Urn,” or “the Song of Colin, a discerning Shepherd,” under those corresponding influences of the literary heavens which freshen and preserve whatever has life in it, and wear down and dilapidate whatever is dead.

A little after ten o’clock, a gentleman, who travelled in his own carriage, entered the inn, — a frank, genial Englishman, who seemed to have a kind word for every one, and whom the inn-people addressed as the Squire. My Scotch tongue revealed my country; and a few questions on the part of the Squire, about Scotland and Scotch matters, fairly launched us into conversation. I had come to Hales Owen to see the Leasowes, I said : when a very young man, I used to dream about them full five hundred miles away, among the rocks and hills of the wild north; and I had now availed myself of my first opportunity of paying them a visit. The Squire, as he in turn informed me, had taken the inn in his way to rusticate for a few days at a small property of his in the immediate neighborhood of the .Leasowes: and if I but called on him on the morrow at his temporary dwelling,— Squire Eyland’s Mill,—all the better if I came to breakfast, — he would, he said, fairly enter me on the grounds, and introduce me, as we went, to the old ecclesiastical building which forms the subject of one of Shenstone’s larger poems, “The Ruined Abbey.” He knew all the localities, — which one acquainted with but the old classic descriptions would now find it difficult to realize, for the place had fallen into a state of sad dilapidation; and often acted the part of cicerone to his friends. I had never met with anything half so frank in Scotland from the class who travel in their own carriages; and, waiving but the breakfast, I was next morning at the Mill, — a quiet, rustic dwelling, at the side of a green lane, a little before ten. It lies at the bottom of a flat valley, with a small stream, lined by many a rich meadow, stealing between its fringes of willows and alders; and with the Leasowes on the one hand, and the Clent Hills, little more than an hour’s walk away, on the other, it must form, in the season of green fields and clear skies, a delightful retreat.

The Squire led me through the valley adown the course of the stream for nearly a mile, and then holding to the right for nearly a quarter of a mile more, we came full upon the ruins of Hales Owen Abbey. The mace of the bluff Harry had fallen heavy upon the pile: it had proved, in after times, a convenient quarry for the neighboring farm-houses, and the repair of roads and fences for miles around; and so it now consists of but a few picturesque fragments cut apart by wide gaps, in which we fail to trace even the foundations, — fragments that rise insulated and tall, — here wrapt up in ivy, — there bristling with wall-flower,— over hay-ricks and antique farm-offices, and moss-grown fruit-trees, and all those nameless appurtenances which a Dutchman would delight to paint, of a long-established barn-yard, farm-house, and orchard. I saw, resting against one of the walls, the rudely-carved lid of a stone coffin, which exhibits in a lower comer a squat figure in the attitude of adoration; and along the opposite side and upper corner, an uncouth representation of the crucifixion, in which the figure on the cross seems that of a gaunt ill-proportioned skeleton. Covered over, however, with the lichens of ages, and garnished with a light border of ground ivy, — a plant which greatly abounds amid the ruins, — its antique misproportions seem quite truthful enough, and impress more than elegance. One tall gable, that of the chancel, which forms the loftiest part of the pile, still remains nearly entire ; and its great window, once emblazoned with the arms of old Judge Lyttelton, but now stripped of stained glass and carved mullion, is richly festooned with ivy. A wooden pigeon-house has been stuck up in the opening, and half a dozen white pigeons were fluttering in the sunshine this morning, round the ivied gable-top. The dust of the old learned lawyer lies under the hay-ricks below, with that of nameless warriors and forgotten churchmen : and when the spade turns up the soil, fragments of human bones are found, thickly mingled with bits of painted tiles and stained glass.

It may be thought I am but wasting words in describing so broken a ruin, seeing I must have passed many finer ones undescribed; but it will, 1 trust, be taken into account that I had perused the “Ruined Abbey” at least twice every twelvemonth, from my twelfth to my twentieth year, and that I had now before me the original of the picture. The poem is not a particularly fine one. Shenstone’s thinking required rhyme, just as Pope’s weakly person needed stays, to keep it tolerably erect; and the “Ruined Abbey” is in blank verse. There is poetry, however, in some of the conceptions, such as that of the peasant, in the days of John, returning listless from his fields after the Pope had pronounced his dire anathema, and seeing in every dark overbellying cloud

“A vengeful angel, in whose waving scroll He read damnation.”

Nor is the following passage, — descriptive of the same gloomy season of terror and deprivation, — though perhaps inferior in elegance and effect to the parallel passage in the prose of Hume, without merit: —

“The wretch, — whose hope, by stern oppression chased
From every earthly bliss, still as it saw
Triumphant wrong, took wing and flew to heaven,
And rested there, —now mourned his refuge lost,
And wonted peace. The sacred fane was barred;
And the lone altar, where the mourners thronged
To supplicate remission, smoked no more;
While the green weed luxuriant rose around.
Some from their deathbed, in delirious woe,
Beheld the ghastly king approach, begirt
In tenfold terrors, or, expiring, heard
The last loud clarion sound, and Heaven’s decree
With unremitting vengeance bar the skies.
Nor light the grief, — by Superstition weighed, —
That their dishonored corse, shut from the verge
Of hallowed earth or tutelary fane,
Must sleep with brutes, their vassals, in the field,
Beneath some path in marie unexorcised.”

The chief interest of the poem, however, does not lie in its poetry. It forms one of the most curious illustrations I know of the strong anti-fopish zeal, apart from religious feeling, which was so general in England during the last century, and which, in the Lord-George-Gordon mobs, showed itself so very formidable a principle when fairly aroused. Dickens’ picture, in “Barnaby Budge,” of the riots of 1780, has the merit of being faithful;—his religious mobs are chiefly remarkable for being mobs in which there is no religion; but his picture would be more faithful still, had he made them in a slight degree Protestant. Shenstone, like the Lord-George-Gordon mob, was palpably devoid of religion, — “an elegant heathen, rather than a Christian,” whose poetry contains verses in praise of almost every god except the true one; and who, when peopling his Elysium with half the deities of Olympus, saw nymphs and satyrs in his very dreams. But though only an indifferent Christian, he was an excellent Protestant. There are passages in the “Buined Abbey” that breathe the very spirit of the English soldiery, whose anti-Popish huzzas, on the eve of the Bevolution, deafened their infatuated monarch in his tent. Take, for instance, the following: —

"Hard was our fate while Rome’s director taught
Of subjects born to be their monarch’s prey;
To toil for monks, — for gluttony to toil, —
For vacant gluttony, extortion, fraud,
For avarice, envy, pride, revenge, and shame!
0, doctrine breathed from Stygian caves! exhaled
From inmost Erebus!”

Not less decided is the passage in which he triumphs over the suppression of the Monasteries, “by Tudor’s wild caprice.”

“Then from its towering height, with horrid sound,
Rushed the proud Abbey. Then the vaulted roofs,
Tom from their walls, disclosed the wanton scene
Of monkish chastity! Each angry friar
Crawled from his bedded strumpet, muttering low
An ineffectual curse. The pervious nooks,
That ages past conveyed the guileful priest
To play some image on the gaping crowd,
Imbibe the novel daylight, and expose
Obvious the fraudful engin’ry of Rome.”

Even with all his fine taste, and high appreciation, for the purposes of the landscape-gardener, of bona fide pieces of antiquity, rich in association, it is questionable, from the following passage, whether his anti-Popish antipathies would not have led him to join our Scotch iconoclasts in their stern work of dilapidation.

“Henceforth was plied the long-continued task
Of righteous havoc, covering distant fields
With the wrought remnants of the shattered pile;
Till recent, through the land, the pilgrim sees
Rich tracts of brighter green, and in the midst
Gray mouldering walls, with nodding ivy crowned,
Or Gothic turret, pride of ancient days,
Now but of use to grace a rural scene,
To bound our vistas, and to glad the sons
Of George’s reign, reserved for fairer times.”

In “The Schoolmistress,” the most finished and pleasing of Shenstone’s longer poems, we find one of the sources of the feeling somewhat unwittingly exhibited. “Shenstone learned to read,” says Johnson, in his biography, “of an old dame, whom his poem of ‘ The Schoolmistress’ has delivered to posterity.” “The house of my old schooldame Sarah Lloyd,” we find the poet himself saying, in one of his earlier letters (1741), “is to be seen as thou travellest towards the native home of thy faithful servant. But she sleeps with her fathers, and is buried with her fathers; and Thomas her son reigneth in her stead.” Of the good Sarah Lloyd we learn from the poem,— apiece of information suited to show how shrewd a part Pusey-ism is acting in possessing itself of the humbler schools of the country, — that

“She was just, and friend to virtuous lore,
And passed much time in truly virtuous deed,
And in her elfins* ears would oft deplore
The times when truth by Popish rage did bleed,
And tort’rous death was true devotion’s meed,
And simple Faith in iron chains did mourn,
That nould on wooden image place her creed,
And lawny saints in smouldering flames did burn:
0, dearest Lord, forfend thilk days should e’er return!”

The anti-Popish feeling of England, which existed, as in Shenstone, almost wholly apart from doctrinal considerations seems to have experienced no diminution till after the suppression of the rebellion of 1745. A long series of historic events had served first to originate, and then to fill with it to saturation every recess of the popular mind. The horrors of the Marian persecution, rendered patent to all by the popular narratives of Fox, — the Invincible Armada and its thumb-screws, — the diabolical plot of the time of James, — the Irish Massacre of the following reign, — the fierce atrocities of Jeffries in the Monmouth rising, intimately associated, in the Protestant mind of the country, with the Popery of his master, — the imprisonment of the bishops, — and the influence of the anti-Romish teaching of the English Church after the Revolution, with the dread, for many years, of a Popish Pretender, — had all united to originate and develop the sentiment which, in its abstract character, we find so adequately represented in Shenstone. Much about the time of the poet’s death, however, a decided reaction began to take place. The Pretender died; the whigs originated their scheme of Roman Catholic Emancipation: atheistic violence had been let loose on the clergy of France, not in their character as Popish, but in their character as Christian; and both the genius of Burke and the piety of Hall had appealed to the Protestant sympathies of England in their behalf. The singularly anomalous position and palpable inefficiency of the Irish Establishment had created a very general diversion in favor of the Popish majority of Ireland; the Voluntary controversy united Evangelistic Dissent and Roman Catholicism by the bonds of a common cause, — at least Evangelistic Dissent was fond enough to believe the cause a common one, and learned to speak with respect and regard of “ Roman Catholic brethren the spread of Puseyism in the English Establishment united, by sympathies of a different but not weaker kind, the Papist and the High Churchman; the old anti-Popish feeling has been gradually sinking under the influence of so many reactive causes; and not since the times of the Reformation was it at so low an ebb as in England at the present day. It would seem as if every old score was to be blotted off, and Popery to be taken a second time on trial. But it will ultimately be found wanting, and will, as in France and Germany, have just to be condemned again. The stiff rigidity of its unalterable codes of practice and belief, — inadequately compensated by the flexibility of its wilier votaries, — has incapacitated it from keeping up with the human mind in its onward march. If it be the sure destiny of man to rise, it must be the as inevitable fate of Popery to sink. The excesses of fifteen hundred years have vitiated and undermined its constitution, intellectual and moral; its absurder beliefs have become incompatible with advanced knowledge, — its more despotic assumptions with rational freedom; and were it not for the craving vacuum in the public mind which infidelity is continually creating for superstition to fill, and into which Popery is fitfully rushing, like steam into the condenser of an engine, again and again to be annihilated, and again and again to flow in, its day, in at least the more enlightened portions of the empire, would not be long.

There seems to be a considerable resemblance at bottom between the old English feeling exemplified in Shenstone, and that which at present animates the* Ronge movement in Germany. We find the English poet exclaiming,

“Hail, honored Wickliffe, enterprising sage! 
An Epicurus in the cause of truth "

And the continental priest, — occupying at best but a half-way position between Luther and Voltaire, and who can remark in his preachings that “if Roman Catholics have a Pope at Rome, the Protestants have made their Pope of a book, and that that book is but a dead letter,” — apostrophizes in a similar spirit the old German reformers. I can, however, see nothing inconsistent in the zeal of such men. It does not greatly require the aid of religion to enable one to decide that exhibitions such as that of the holy coat of Treves are dishonest and absurd, or to warm with indignation at the intolerance that would make one’s liberty or life pay the penalty of one’s freedom of opinion. Shenstone, notwithstanding his indifference to the theological, was quite religious enough to have been sabred or shot, had he been at Paris on the eve of St. Bartholomew, or knocked on the head if in Ulster at the time of the Irish massacre. What, apart from religious considerations, is chiefly to be censured and regretted in the zeal of the Ronges and Shenstones, Michelets and Eugene Sues, is, not that it is inconsistent, but that it constitutes at best but a vacuum-creating power. It forms a void where, in the nature of things, no void can permanently exist, and which superstition is ever rushing in to fill; and so the progress of the race, wherever it is influentially operative, instead of being conducted onwards in its proper line of march, becomes a weary cycle, that ever returns upon itself. The human intellect, under its influence, seems as if drawn within the ceaselessly-revolving eddies of a giddy maelstrom, or as if it had become obnoxious to the remarkable curse pronounced of old by the Psalmist: I quote from the version of Milton,

“My God! oh, make them as a wheel;
No quiet let them find;
Giddy and restless let them reel
Like stubble from the wind.”

History is emphatic on the point. Nearly three centuries have elapsed since the revived Christianity of the Reformation supplanted Roman Catholicism in Scotland. But there was no vacuum created; the space previously taken up in the popular mind by the abrogated superstition was amply occupied by the resuscitated faith; and, as a direct consequence, whatever reaction in favor of Popery may have taken place among the people is of a purely political, not religious character. With Popery as a religion the Presbyterian Scotch are as far from closing now as they ever were. But how entirely different has been the state of matters in France! There are men still living who remember the death of Voltaire. In the course of a single lifetime, Popery has been twice popular and influential in that country, and twice has the vacuum-creating power, more than equally popular and influential for the time, closed chill and cold around it, to induce its annihilation. The literature of France for the last half-century is curiously illustrative of this process of action and reaction, — of condensation and expansion. It exhibits during that period three distinct groups of authors. There is first a group of vacuum-creators, — a surviving remnant of the Encyclopedists of the previous half-century,— adequately represented by Condorcet and the Abbe Raynal; next appears a group of the reactionists, represented equally well by Chateaubriand and Lamartine; and then,— for Popery has again become monstrous, — we see a second group of vacuum-creators in the Eugene Sues and Michelets, the most popular French writers of the present day. And thus must the cycle revolve, “ unquiet and giddy as a wheel,” until France shall find rest in the Christianity of the New Testament.

I spent so much time among the ruins, that my courteous conductor the Squire, who had business elsewhere to attend to, had to leave me, after first, however, setting me on my way to the Leasowes, and kindly requesting me to make use of his name, if the person who farmed the grounds demurred, as sometimes happened with strangers, to give me admission to them. I struck up the hill, crossed a canal that runs along its side, got into a cross road between sheltered belts of planting, and then, with the Leasowes full in front, stopped at a small nailery, to ask at what point I might most easily gain access to them. The sole workers in the nailery were two fresh-colored, good-looking young girls, whose agile, well-turned arms were plying the hammer with a rapidity that almost eluded the eye, and sent the quick glancing sparks around them in showers. Both stopped short in their work, and came to the door to point out what they deemed the most accessible track. There was no gate, they said, in this direction, but I would find many gaps in the fence: they were in doubt, however, whether the people at the “ white house ” would give me leave to walk over the grounds: certainly the nailer lads were frequently refused; and they were sorry they could n’t do anything for me: I would be sure of permission if they could give it me. At all events, said I, I shall take the longest possible road to the white house, and see a good deal of the grounds ere I meet with the refusal. Both the naileresses laughed; and one of them said she had always heard the Scotch were “long-headed.” Hales Qwen; and its precincts are included in the great iron district of Birmingham; and the special branch of the iron trade which falls to the share of the people is the manufacture of nails. The suburbs of the town are formed chiefly of rows of little brick-houses, with a nail-shop in each; and the quick, smart patter of hammers sounds incessantly, in one encircling girdle of din, from early morning till late night. As I passed through, on my way to the Squire’s Mill, I saw whole families at work together, — father, mother, sons, and daughters; and met in streets young girls, not at all untidily dressed considering the character of their vocation, trundling barrowfuls of coal to their forges, or carrying on their shoulders bundles of rod-iron. Of all our poets of the last century, there was scarce one so addicted to the use of those classic nicknames which impart so unreal an air to English poetry, when bestowed on English men and women, as poor Shenstone. We find his verses dusted over with Delias, and Cecilias, and Ophelias, Flavias, and Fulvias, Chloes, Daphnes, and Phillises; and, as if to give them the necessary prominence, the printer, in all the older editions, has relieved them from the surrounding text by the employment of staring capitals. I had read Shenstone early enough to wonder what sort of looking people his Delias and Cecilias were; and now, ere plunging into the richly-wooded Leasowes, I had got hold of the right idea. The two young naileresses were really very pretty. Cecilia, a ruddy blonde, was fabricating tackets; and Delia, a bright-eyed brunette, engaged in heading a double-double.

Ere entering on the grounds, however, I must attempt doing what Dodsley has failed to do, — I must try whether I cannot give the reader some idea of the Leasowes as a whole, in their relation to the surrounding country. Let us, then, once more return to the three Silurian eminences that rise island-like from the basin of the Dudley coal-field, and the parallel line of trap hills that stretches away amid the New Red Sandstone. I have described the lines as parallel, but, like the outstretched sides of a parallel-ruler, not opposite. There joins on, however, to the Silurian line, — like a prolongation of one of the right lines of the mathematician indicated by dots, — an extension of the chain, not Silurian, which consists of eminences of a flatter and humbler character than either the Wren’s Nest or the Castle Hill, and which runs opposite to the trap chain for several miles. One of these supplementary eminences — the one adjoining the Castle Hill — is composed of the trap to which the entire line owes its elevation ; and a tall, cairn-like group of apparent boulders, that seem as if they had been piled up by giants, but are mere components of a partially disintegrated projection from the rock below, occupies its summit. In the flat hill directly beyond it, though the trap does not appear, it has tilted up the Lower Coal Measures, amid the surrounding New Red Sandstone, saddlewise on its back; the strata shelve downwards on both sides from the anticlinal line atop, like the opposite sides of a roof from the ridge; and the entire hill, to use a still humbler illustration, resembles a huge blister in new plaster, formed by the expansion of some fragment of unslaked lime in the ground-coating beneath. Now, it is with this hill of the Lower Coal Measures — this huge blister of millstone grit — that we have chiefly to do.

Let the reader imagine it of soft swelling outline, and ample base, with the singularly picturesque trap range full in front, some four miles away, and a fair rural valley lying between. Let him further imagine the side of the hill furrowed by a transverse valley, opening at right angles into the great front valley, and separating atop into two forks, or branches, that run up, shallowing as they go, to near the hill-top. Let him, in short, imagine this great valley broad right line, and tne transverse forked valley a gigantic letter Y resting on it. And this forked valley on the hill-side — this gigantic letter Y — is the Leasowes. The picturesqueness of such a position can be easily appreciated. The forked valley, from head to gorge, is a reclining valley, partaking along its bottom of the slope of the eminence on which it lies, and thus possessing, what is by no means common among the valleys of England, true downhill water-courses, along which the gathered waters may leap m a chain of cascades; and commanding, in its upper recesses, though embraced and sheltered on every side by the surrounding hill, extended prospects of the country below. It thus combines the scenic advantages of both hollow and rising ground, — the quiet seclusion of the one, and the expansive landscapes of the other. The broad valley into which it opens is rich and well wooded. Just in front of the opening we see a fine sheet of water, about twenty acres in extent, the work of the monks; immediately to the right stand the ruins of the abbey; immediately to the left, the pretty compact town of Hales Owen lies grouped around its fine old church and spire; a range of green swelling eminences rises beyond, beyond these, fainter in the distance, and considerably bolder in outline, ascends the loftier range of the trap hills, — one of the number roughened by the tufted woods, and crowned by the obelisk at Hagley; and, over all, blue and shadowy on the far horizon, sweeps the undulating line of the mountains of Cambria. Such is the character of the grounds which poor Shenstone set himself to convert into an earthly paradise, and such the outline of the surrounding landscape. But to my hard anatomy of the scene I must add the poet’s own elegant filling up: —

“Romantic scenes of pendent hills,
And verdant vales and falling rills,
And mossy banks the fields adorn,
Where Damon, simple swain, was born.
The Dryads reared a shady grove,
Where such as think, and such as love,
Might safely sigh their summer’s day,
Or muse their silent hours away.
The Oreads liked the climate well,
And taught the level plains to swell
In verdant mounds, from whence the eye
Might all their larger works descry.
The Naiads poured their urns around
From nodding rocks o’er vales profound;
They formed their streams to please the view,
And bade them wind as serpents do;
And having shown them where to stray,
Threw little pebbles in their way.”

I got ready permission at the house of the Leasowes — a modem building erected on the site of that in which Shenstone resided — to walk over the grounds; and striking upwards directly along the centre of the angular tongue of land which divides the two forks of the valley, I gained the top of the hill, purposing to descend to where the gorge opens below along the one fork, and to reascend along the other. On the hill-top, a single field’s breadth beyond the precincts of the Leasowes, I met a tall middle-aged female, whose complexion, much embrowned by the sun, betrayed the frequent worker in fields, and her stiff angularity of figure, the state of single blessedness, and “maiden meditation, fancy free,” which Shakspeare complimented in Elizabeth. I greeted her with fair good day, and asked her whether the very fine grounds below were not the Leasowes? or, as I now learned to pronounce the word, Lisos, — for when I gave it its long Scotch sound, no one in the neighborhood seemed to know what place I meant. “Ah, yes," said she, “the Lisos! — they were much thought of long ago; in Squire Shenstone’s days; but they are all ruinated now; and, except on Sundays, when the nailer lads get into them, when they can, few people come their way. Squire Shenstone was a poet,” she added, “ and died for love.” This was not quite the case : the Squire, who might have married his Phillis had he not been afraid to incur the expense of a wife, died of a putrid fever at the sober age of forty-nine; but there would have been little wit in substituting a worse for a better story, and so I received without challenge the information of the spinster. In descending, I took the right-hand branch of the valley, which is considerably more extended than that to the left. A low cliff, composed of the yellow gritty sandstone of the Lower Coal Measures, and much overhung by stunted alder and hazel bushes, stands near the head of the ravine, just where the Leasowes begin; and directly out of the middle of the cliff, some three or four feet from its base, there comes leaping to the light, as out of the smitten rock in the wilderness, a clear and copious spring, — one of the “health-bestowing” fountains,

“All bordered with moss,
Where the harebells and violets grew.”

Alas I moss, and harebells, and violets, were gone, with the path which had once led to the spot, and the seat which had once fronted it; the waters fell dead and dull into a quagmire, like young human life leaping out of unconscious darkness into misery, and then stole away through a boggy strip of rank grass and rushes, along a line of scraggy alders. All was changed, save the full-volumed spring, and it, —

“A thousand and a thousand years,
’T will flow as now it flows.”


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