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First Impressions of England and its People
Chapter XV


Cowper; his singular Magnanimity of Character ; Argument furnished by his latter Religious History against the Selfish Philosophy. — Valley of the Ouse. — Approach to Olney. — Appearance of the Town. — Cow-per’s House ; Parlor ; Garden. — Pippin-tree planted by the Poet. — Summer-house written within and without. —John Tawell. — Delightful Old Woman. — Weston-Underwood. — Thomas Scott’s House. — The Park of the Throckmortons. — Walk described in “The Task.” — Wilderness. — Ancient Avenue. — Alcove ; Prospect which it commands, as drawn by Cowper. — Colonnade. — Rustic Bridge. —Scene of the “Needless Alarm.” — The Milk Thistle.

Olney! Weston-Underwood! Yardley-Chase! the banks of the Ouse, and the park of the Throckmortons! Classic ground once more, — the home and much-loved haunts of a sweet and gentle, yet sublimely heroic nature, that had to struggle on in great unhappiness with the most terrible of all enemies, — the obstinate unreasoning despair of a broken mind. Poor Cowper! There are few things more affecting in the history of the species than the Heaven-inspired magnanimity of this man. Believing himself doomed to perish everlastingly, — for such was the leading delusion of his unhappy malady, — he yet made it the grand aim of his enduring labors to show forth the mercy and goodness of a God who, he believed, had no mercy for him, and to indicate to others the true way of salvation, — deeming it all the while a way closed against himself. Such, surely, is not the character or disposition of the men destined to perish. We are told by his biographers that the well-known hymn, in which he celebrates the “mysterious way” in which “God works” to “perform his wonders,” was written at the close of the happy period which intervened between the first and second attacks of his cruel malady; and that what suggested its composition were the too truly interpreted indications of a relapse. His mind had been wholly restored to him; he had been singularly happy in his religion: and he had striven earnestly, as in the case of his dying brother, to bring others under its influence. And now, too surely feeling that his intellect was again on the eve of being darkened, he deemed the providence a frowning one, but believed in faith that there was a “ smiling face ” behind it. In his second recovery, though his intellectual stature was found to have greatly increased, — as in some racking maladies the person of the patient becomes taller, — he never enjoyed his whole mind. There was a missing faculty, if faculty I may term it: his well-grounded hope of salvation never returned. It were presumptuous to attempt interpreting the real scope and object of the afflictive dispensation which Cowper could contemplate with such awe; and yet there does seem a key to it. There is surely a wondrous sublimity in the lesson which it reads. The assertors of the selfish theory have dared to regard Christianity itself, in its relation to the human mind, as but one of the higher modifications of the self-aggrandizing sentiment. May we not venture to refer them to the grief-worn hero of Olney, — the sweet poet who first poured the stream of Divine truth into the channels of our literature, after they had been shut against it for more than a hundred years, — and ask them whether it be in the power of sophistry to square his motives with the ignoble conclusions of their philosophy?

Diney stands upon the Oolite, on the northern side of the valley of the Ouse, and I approached it this morning from the south, across the valley. Let the reader imagine a long green ribbon of flat meadow, laid down in the middle of the landscape like a web on a bleaching green, only not quite so straightly drawn out. It is a ribbon about half a mile in breadth, and it stretches away lengthwise above and below, far as the eye can reach. There rises over it on each side a gentle line of acclivity, that here advances upon it in flat promontories, there recedes into shallow bays, and very much resembles the line of a low-lying but exceedingly rich coast; for on both sides, field and wood, cottage and hedge-row, lie thick as the variously tinted worsteds in a piece of German needlework; the flat ribbon in the midst is bare and open, and through it there winds, from side to side, in many a convolution, as its appropriate pattern, a blue sluggish stream, deeply fringed on both banks by an edging of tall bulrushes. The pleasantly grouped village directly opposite, with the long narrow bridge in front, and the old handsome church and tall spire rising in the midst, is Olney; and that other village on the same side, about two miles further up the stream, with the exceedingly lofty trees rising over it, — trees so lofty that they overhang the square tower of its church, as a churchyard cypress overhangs a sepulchral monument, — is Weston- Underwood. In the one village Cowper produced “The Task;” in the other he translated “Homer.”

I crossed the bridge, destined, like the “Brigs of Ayr,” and the “Bridge of Sighs,” long to outlive its stone and lime existence; passed the church, — John Newton’s; saw John Newton’s house, a snug building, much garnished with greehery; and then entered Olney proper, — the village that was Olney a hundred years ago. Unlike most of the villages of central England, it is built, not of brick, but chiefly at least of a calcareous yellow stone from the Oolite, which, as it gathers scarce any lichen or moss, looks clean and fresh after the lapse of centuries ; and it is not until the eye catches the dates on the peaked gable points, 1682, 1611, 1590, that one can regard the place as no hastily run up town of yesterday, but as a place that had a living in other times. The main street, which is also the Bedford road, broadens towards the middle of the village into a roomy angle, in shape not very unlike the capacious pocket of a Scotch housewife of the old school: one large elm tree rises in the centre ; and just opposite the elm, among the houses which skirt the base of the angle, — e. the bottom of the pocket, — we see an old-fashioned house, considerably taller than the others, and differently tinted; for it is built of red brick, somewhat ornately bordered with stone. And this tall brick house was Cowper’s home for nineteen years. It contains the parlor, which has become such a standard paragon of snugness and comfort, that it will need no repairs in all the future; and the garden behind is that in which the poet reared his cucumbers and his Ribston pippins, and in which he plied hammer and saw to such excellent purpose, in converting his small greenhouse into a summer sitting-room, and in making lodging-houses for his hares. He dated from that tall house not a few of the most graceful letters in the English language, and matured, from the first crude conceptions to the last finished touches, “Truth,” “Hope,” “The Progress of Error,” “Retirement,” and “The Task.” I found the famed parlor vocal with the gabble of an infant school: carpet and curtains were gone, sofa and bubbling urn: and I saw, instead, but a few deal forms, and about two dozen chubby children, whom all the authority of the thin old woman, their teacher, could not recall to diligence in the presence of the stranger. The walls were sorely soiled, and the plaster somewhat broken; there was evidence, too, that a partition had been removed, and that the place was roomier by one-half than wThen Cowper and Mrs. Unwin used to sit down in it to their evening tea.

But at least one interesting feature had remained unchanged. There is a small port-hole in the plaster, framed by a narrow facing of board; and through this port-hole, cut in the partition for the express purpose, Cowper’s hares used to come leaping out to their evening gambols on the carpet. I found the garden, like the house, much changed. It had been broken up into two separate properties ; and the proprietors having run a wall through the middle of it, one must now seek the pippin-tree which the poet planted in one little detached bit of garden, and the lath-and-plaster summer-house, which, when the weather was fine, used to form his writing-room in another. The Ribston pippin looks an older-like tree, and has more lichen about it, though far from tall for its age, than might be expected of a tree of Cowper’s planting; but it is now seventy-nine years since the poet came to Olney, and in less than seventy-nine years young fruit-trees become old ones. The little summer-house, maugre the fragility of its materials, is in a wonderfully good state of keeping: the old lath still retains the old lime; and all the square inches and finger-breadths of the plaster, inside and out, we find as thickly covered with names as the space in our ancient Scotch copies of the “Solemn League and Covenant.” Cowper would have marvelled to have seen his little summer-house, — for little it is, — scarce larger than a four-posted bedstead, — written, like the roll described in sacred vision, “ within and without.” It has still around it, in its green old age, as when it was younger and less visited, a great profusion of flowering shrubs and hollyhocks; we see from its window the back of honest John Newton’s house, much enveloped in wood, with the spire of the church rising over; and on either side there are luxuriant orchards, in which the stiffer forms of the fruit-trees are relieved by lines of graceful poplars. Some of the names on the plaster are not particularly classical. My conductress pointed to one signature, in especial, which was, she said, an object of great curiosity, and which a “most respectable person,” — “after the execution,” — had come a day’s journey to see. It was that of the hapless “John Tawell, Great Birkenstead, Hants,” who about two years ago was hung for the murder of his mistress. It had been added to the less ‘celebrated names, for so the legend bore, on the “21st day of seventh month 1842;” and just beside it some kind friend of the deceased had added, by way of postscript, the significant hieroglyphic of a minute human figure, suspended on a gibbet, with the head rather uncomfortably twisted awry.

I had made several unsuccessful attempts to procure a guide acquainted with the walks of the poet, and had inquired of my conductress (an exceedingly obliging person, I may mention, — housekeeper of the gentleman to whom the outermost of the two gardens belongs), as of several others, whether she knew any one at once willing and qualified to accompany me for part of the day in that capacity. But she could bethink herself of nobody. Just, however, as we stepped out from the garden into the street, there was an old woman in a sad-colored cloak, and bearing under the cloak a bulky basket, passing by. “O!” said the housekeeper, “there is just the person that knows more about Cowper than any one else. She was put to school, when a little girl, by Mrs. Unwin, and was much about her house at Weston-Underwood. Gossip, gossip! come hither.” And so I secured the old woman as my guide; and we set out together for Weston and the pleasure-grounds of the Throck-mortons. She was seventy-one, she said; but she walked every day with her basket from Weston-Underwood to Olney,— sometimes, indeed, twice in the day, — to shop and market for her neighbors. She had now got a basket of fresh herrings, which were great rarities in these parts, and it behooved her to get them delivered: but she would then be quite free to accompany me to all the walks in which she had seen Squire Cowper a hundred and a hundred times, — to the “Peasant’s Nest,” and the “alcove,” and the “avenue,” and the “rustic bridge,” and the “Wilderness,” and “Yardley oak,” and, in short, anywhere or everywhere. I could not have been more in luck: my delightful old woman had a great deal to say: she would have been equally garrulous, I doubt not, had Cowper been a mere country squire, and Mrs. Unwin his housekeeper; but as he chanced to be a great poet, and as his nearer friends had, like the planets of a central sun, become distinctly visible, from their proximity, by the light which he cast, and were evidently to remain so, her gossip about him and them I found vastly agreeable. The good Squire Cowper! she said,— well did she remember him, in his white cap, and his suit of green turned up with black. She knew the Lady Hesketh too. A kindly lady was the Lady Hesketh; there are few such ladies now-a-days: she used to put coppers into her little velvet bag every time she went out, to make the children she met happy; and both she and Mrs. Unwin were remarkably kind to the poor. The road to Weston-Underwood looks down upon the valley of the Ouse. “Were there not water-lilies in the river in their season?” I asked; “and did not Cowper sometimes walk out along its banks?” — “O yes,” she replied; “and I remember the dog Beau, too, who brought the lily ashore to him. Beau was a smart, petted little creature, with silken ears, and had a good deal of red about him.”

My guide brought me to Cowper’s Weston residence, a handsome, though, like the Olney domicile, old-fashioned house, still in a state of good repair, with a whitened many-windowed front, and tall steep roof flagged with stone; and I whiled away some twenty minutes or so in the street before it, while my old woman went about dispersing her herrings. Weston-Underwood, as villages go, must enjoy a rather quiet, do-nothing'sort of existence, for in all that time not a passenger went by. The houses — steep-roofed, straw-thatched, stone-built erections, with the casements of their second stories lost in the eaves — straggle irregularly on both sides of the road, as if each house had an independent will of its own, and was somewhat capricious in the exercise of it. There is a profusion of well-grown, richly-leaved vines, trailed up against their walls : the season had been unfavorable, and so the grapes, in even the best bunches, scarcely exceeded in size our common red currants ; but still they were bona fide vines and grapes, and their presence served to remind one of the villages of sunnier climates. A few tall walls and old gateway columns mingle with the cottages, and these are all that now remain of the mansion-house of the Throckmortons. One rather rude-looking cottage, with its upper casement half hid in the thatch, is of some note, as the scene of a long struggle in a strong rugged mind, — honest, but not amiable, —which led ultimately to the production of several useful folios of solid theology. In that cottage a proud Socinian curate studied and prayed himself, greatly against his will, into one of the soundest Calvinists of modern times : it was for many years the dwelling-place of Thomas Scott; and his well-known narrative, “The Force of Truth,” forms a portion of his history during the time he lived in it. The road I had just travelled over with the woman was that along which John Newton had come, in the January of 1774, to visit, in one of these cottages, tw;o of Scott’s parishioners,— a dying man and woman; and the Socinian, who had not visited them, was led to think seriously, for the first time, that he had a duty as a clergyman which he failed to perform.

It was along the same piece of road, some three years later, that Scott used to steal, when no longer a Socinian, but still wofully afraid of being deemed a Methodist, to hear Newton preach. There were several heaps of stones lying along the street, — the surplus materials of a recent repair, — that seemed to have been gathered from the neighboring fields, but had been derived, in the first instance, from some calcareous grit of the Oolite; and one of these lay opposite the windows of Cowper’s mansion. The first fragment I picked up contained a well-marked Plagiostoma; the second, a characteristic fragment of a Pecten. I bethought me of Cowper’s philippic on the earlier geologists, which, however, the earlier geologists too certainly deserved, for their science was not good, and their theology wretched; and I indulged in, I dare say, something approaching to a smile. Genius, when in earnest, can do a great deal; but it cannot put down scientific truth, save now and then for a very little time, and would do well never to try.

My old woman had now pretty nearly scattered over the neighborhood her basket of herrings; but she needed, she said, just to look in upon her grandchildren, to say she was going to the woodlands, lest the poor things should come to think they had lost her; and I accompanied her to the cottage. It was a humble low-roofed hut, with its earthen floor sunk, as in many of our Scottish cottages, a single step below the level of the lane. Her grandchildren, little girls of seven and nine years, were busily engaged with their lace bobbins: the younger was working a piece of narrow edging, for her breadth of attainment in the lace department extended a-s yet over only a few threads; whereas the "elder was achieving a little belt of open-work, with a pattern in it. They were orphans, and lived with their poor grandmother, and she was a widow. We regained the street, and then, passing through a 26* dilapidated gateway, entered the pleasure-grounds, — the scene of the walk so enchantingly described in the opening book of “ The Task.” But, before taking up in. detail the minuter features of the place, I must attempt communicating to the reader some conception of it as a whole.

The road from Olney to Weston-Underwood lies parallel to the valley of the Ouse, at little more than a field’s breadth up the slope. On its upper side, just where it enters Weston, there lies based upon it (like the parallelogram of a tyro geometrician, raised on a given right line) an old-fashioned rectangular park, — that of the Throckmortons, — about half a mile in breadth by about three-quarters of a mile in length. The sides of the enclosure are bordered by a broad belting of very tall and very ancient wood ; its grassy area is mottled by numerous trees, scattered irregularly; its surface partakes of the general slope; it is traversed by a green valley, with a small stream trotting along the bottom, that enters it from abovej nearly about the middle of the upper side, and that then, cutting it diagonally, passes outwards and downwards towards the Ouse through the lower corner. About the middle of the park this valley sends out an ofF-shoot valley, or dell rather, towards that upper corner furthest removed from the corner by which it makes its exit; the off-shoot dell has no stream a-bot-tom, but is a mere grassy depression, dotted with trees. It serves, however, with the valleys into which it opens, so to break the surface of the park that the rectangular formality of the lines of boundary almost escape notice. Now, the walk described in “ The Task ” lay along three of the four sides of this parallelogram. The poet, quitting the Olney road at that lower corner where the diagonal valley finds egress, struck up along the side of the park, turned at the nearer upper corner, and passed through the belting of wood that runs along the top; turned again at the further upper corner, and, coming down on Weston, joined the Olney road just where it enters the village. After first quitting the highway, a walk of two furlongs or so brought him abreast of the “ Peasant’s Nest; ” after the first turning atop, and a walk of some two or three furlongs more, he descended into the diagonal valley, just where it enters the park, crossed the rustic bridge which spans the stream at the bottom, marked the doings of the mole, and then ascended to the level on the other side. Near the second turning he found the alcove, and saw the trees in the stream-less dell, as if “ sunk, and shortened to their topmost boughs then, coming dowrn upon Weston, he passed under the “light and graceful arch” of the ancient avenue; reached the “Wilderness” as he was nearing the village ; and, emerging from the thicket full upon the houses, saw the “thrasher at his task,” through the open door of some one of the barns of the place. Such is a hard outline, in road-map fashion, of the walk which, in the pages of Cowper, forms such exquisite poetry. I entered it somewhat unluckily to-day at the wrong end, commencing at the western corner, and passing on along its angles to the corner near Olney, thus reversing the course of Cowper, for my old woman had no acquaintance with “The Task,” or the order of its descriptions; but, after mastering the various scenes in detail, I felt no difficulty in restoring them to the integrity of the classic arrangement.

On first entering the park, among the tall forest-trees that, viewed from the approach to Olney, seem to overhang the village and its church, one sees a square, formal corner, separated from the opener ground by a sunk dry-stone fence, within which the trees, by no means lofty, are massed as thickly together as saplings in a nursery-bed run wild, or nettles in a neglected burying-ground. There are what seem sepulchral urns among the thickets of this enclosure; and sepulchral urns they are, — raised, however, to commemorate the burial-places, not of men, hut of beasts. Cowper in 1792 wrote an epitaph for a favorite pointer of the Throckmortons; and the family, stirred up by the event, seem from that period to have taken a dog-burying bias, and to have made their Wilderness the cemetery; for this square enclosure in the corner, with its tangled thickets and its green mouldy urns, is the identical Wilderness of “The Task,”

“Whose well-rolled walks,
With curvature of slow and easy sweep, —
Deception innocent,—give ample space
To narrow bounds.”

One wonders at the fortune that assigned to so homely and obscure a corner — a corner which a nursery-gardener could get up to order in a fortnight—so proud and conspicuous a niche in English literature. We walk on, however, and find the scene next described greatly more worthy of the celebrity conferred on it. In passing upwards, along the side of the park, we have got into a noble avenue of limes,—tall as York Minster, and very considerably longer, for the vista diminishes till the lofty arch seems reduced to a mere doorway; the smooth glossy trunks form stately columns, and the branches, interlacing high over head, a magnificent roof.

“How airy and how light the graceful arch,
Yet awful as the consecrated roof
Reechoing pious anthems ! while beneath
The checkered earth seems restless as a flood
Brushed by the wind. So sportive is the light
Shot through the boughs, it dances as they dance,
Shadow and sunshine intermingling quick,
And darkening and enlightening, as the leaves
Play wanton every moment, every spot.”

What exquisite description! And who, acquainted with Cowper, ever walked in a wood when the sun shone, and the wind ruffled the leaves, without realizing it! It was too dead a calm to-day to show me the dancing light and shadow where the picture had first been taken: the feathery outline of the foliage lay in diluted black, moveless on the grass, like the foliage of an Indian-ink drawing newly washed in; but all else was present, just as Cowper had described half a century before. Two minutes’ walk, after passing through the avenue, brought me to the upper corner of the park, and “ the proud alcove that crowns it,” — for the “proud alcove” does still crown it. But time, and the weather, and rotting damps, seem to be working double tides on the failing pile, and it will not crown ’+ long. The alcove is a somewhat clumsy erection of wood and plaster, with two squat wooden columns in front, of a hybrid order between the Tuscan and Doric, and a seat within. A crop of dark-colored mushrooms cherished by the damp summer had shot up along the joints of the decaying floor; the plaster, flawed and much stained, dangled from the ceiling in numerous little bits, suspended, like the sword of old, by single hairs ; the broad deal architrave had given way at one end, but the bolt at the other still proved true; and so it hung diagonally athwart the two columns, like the middle bar of a gigantic letter N. The “characters uncouth” of the “rural carvers” are, however, still legible; and not a few names have since been added. This upper corner of the park forms its highest ground, and the view is very fine. The streamless dell — not streamless always, however, for the poet describes the urn of its little Naiad as filled in winter — lies immediately in front, and we see the wood within its hollow recesses, as if “sunk, and shortened to the topmost boughs.” The green undulating surface of the park, still more deeply grooved in the distance by the diagonal valley, and mottled with trees, stretches away beyond to the thick belting of tall wood below. There is a wide opening, just where the valley opens, — a great gap in an immense hedge, — that gives access to the further landscape; the decent spire of John Newton’s church rises, about two miles away, as the central object in the vista thus formed; we see in front a few silvery reaches of the Ouse; and a blue uneven line of woods that runs along the horizon closes in the prospect. The nearer objects within the pale of the park, animate and inanimate, — the sheepfold and its sheep, the hay-wains, empty and full, as they pass and repass to and from the hay-field, — the distinctive characters of the various trees, and their shortened appearance in the streamless valley, — occupy by much the larger part of Cowper’s description from the alcove; while the concluding five lines afford a bright though brief glimpse of the remoter prospect, as seen through the opening. But I must not withhold the description itself, — at once so true to nature and so instinct with poetry, — familiar as it must prove to the great bulk of my readers.

“Now roves the eye
And, posted on this speculative height,
Exults in its command.
The sheepfold here
Pours out its fleecy tenants o’er the glebe.
At first, progressive as a stream, they seek
The middle field; but, scattered by degrees,
Each to his choice, soon whiten all the land.
There from the sunburnt hay-field homeward creeps
The loaded wain ; while, lightened of its charge,
The wain that meets it passes swiftly by,
The boorish driver leaning o’er his team,
Vociferous and impatient of delay.
Nor less attractive is the woodland scene,
Diversified with trees of various growth,
Alike, yet various. Here the gray smooth trunks
Of ash, or lime, or beech, distinctly shine
Within the twilight of their distant shades ;
There, lost behind a rising ground, the wood
Seems sunk, and shortened to its topmost boughs.
No tree in all the grove but has its charms,
Though each its hue peculiar; paler some,
And of a wannish gray; the willow such,
And poplar, that with silver lines his leaf,
And ash far stretching his umbrageous arm;
Of deeper green the elm; and deeper still,
Lord of the woods, the long-surviving oak.
Some glossy-leaved, and shining in the sun,
The maple, and the beech of oily nuts
Prolific, and the lime at dewy eve
Diffusing odors : nor unnoted pass
The sycamore, capricious in attire,
Now green, now tawny, and, ere autumn yet
Have changed the woods, in scarlet honors bright.
O’er these, but far beyond (a spacious map
Of hill and valley interposed between),
The Ouse, dividing the well-watered land,
Now glitters in the sun, and now retires,
As bashful, yet impatient to be seen.”

Quitting the alcove, we skirt the top of the park of the Throckmortons, on a retired grassy walk that runs straight as a tightened cord along the middle of the belting which forms the park’s upper boundary, — its enclosing hedge, if I may so speak without offence to the dignity of the ancient forest-trees which compose it. There is a long line of squat broad-stemmed chestnuts on either hand, that fling their interlacing arms athwart the pathway, and bury it, save where here and there the sun breaks in through a gap, in deep shade ; but the roof overhead, unlike that of the ancient avenue already described, is not the roof of a lofty nave in the light, florid style, but of a low-browed, thickly-ribbed Saxon crypt, flanked by ponderous columns, of dwarfish stature, but gigantic strength. And this double tier of chestnuts, extended along the park-top from corner to corner, is the identical “length of colonnade” eulogized by Cowper in “The Task”: —

“Monument of ancient taste,
Now scorned, but worthy of a better fate;
Our fathers knew the value of a screen
From sultry suns ; and, in their shaded walks
And long-protracted bowers, enjoyed at noon
The gloom and coolness of declining day.
Thanks to Benevolus,—he spares me yet
These chestnuts ranged in corresponding lines;
And, though himself so polished, still reprieves
Their obsolete prolixity of shade.”

Half-way on, we descend into the diagonal valley, — “but cautious, lest too fast,”—just where it enters the park from the uplands, and find at its bottom the “rustic bridge.” It was rustic when at its best, — an arch of some four feet span or so, built of undressed stone, fenced with no parapet, and covered over head by a green breadth of turf; and it is now both rustic and ruinous to boot, for one-half the arch has fallen in. The stream is a mere sluggish runnel, much overhung by hawthorn bushes: there are a good many half-grown oaks scattered about in the hollow; while on either hand the old massy chestnuts top the acclivities.

Leaving the park at the rustic bridge, by a gap in the fence, my guide and I struck outwards through the valley towards the uplands. We had left, on crossing the hedge, the scene of the walk in “ The Task;” but there is no getting away in this locality from Cowper. The first field we stepped into “adjoining close to Kilwick’s echoing wood,” is that described in the “Needless Alarm;” and we were on our way to visit “ Yardley oak.” The poet, conscious of his great wealth in the pictorial, was no niggard in description; and so the field, though not very remarkable- for anything, has had its picture drawn.

“A narrow brook, by rushy banks concealed,
Runs in a bottom and divides the field ;
Oaks intersperse it that had once a head,
But now wear crests of oven-wood instead ;
And where the land slopes to its watery bourn,
Wide yawns a gulf beside a ragged thorn.
Bricks line the sides, but shivered long ago,
And horrid brambles intertwine below ;
A hollow scooped, I judge, in ancient time,
For baking earth or burning rock to lime.”

The “narrow brook” here' is that which, passing downwards into the park, runs underneath the rustic bridge, and flows towards the Ouse through the diagonal valley. The field itself, which lies on one of the sides of the valley, and presents rather a steep slope to the plough, has still its sprinkling of trees; but the oaks, with the oven-wood crests, have nearly all disappeared ; and for the “ gulf beside the thorn,” I could find but a small oblong, steep-sided pond, half overshadowed by an ash-tree. Improvement has sadly defaced the little field since it sat for its portrait; for though never cropped in Squire Cowper’s days, as the woman told me, it now lies, like the ordinary work-day pieces of ground beyond and beside it, in a state of careful tillage, and smelt rank at the time of a flourishing turnip crop. “O,” said the woman, who for the last minute had been poking about the hedge for something which she could not find, “do you know that the Squire was a beautiful drawer?” — “I know that he drew,” I replied; “but I do not know that his drawings were fine ones. I have in Scotland a great book filled with the Squire’s letters; and I have learned from it, that ere he set himself to write his long poems, he used to draw ‘mountains and valleys, and ducks and dab chicks,’ and that he threatened to charge his friends at the rate of a halfpenny a piece for them.” — “Ah,” said the woman, “but he drew grandly, for all that; and I have just been looking for a kind of thistle that used to grow here, — but the farmer has, I find, weeded it all out, — that he made many fine pictures of. I have seen one of them with Lady Hesketh, that her ladyship thought very precious. The thistle was a pretty thistle, and I am sorry they are all gone. It had a deep red flower, set round with long thorns; and the green of the leaves was crossed with bright white streaks.” I inferred from the woman’s description that the plant so honored by Cowper’s pencil must have been the “milk thistle,” famous in legendary lore for bearing strong trace on its leaves of glossy green of the milk of the Virgin Mother, dropped on it in the flight to Egypt.


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