Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]
[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

TWICKENHAM. -STRAWBERRY HILL.

277

Edward and himself: this provision was afterward enhanced by some money which came to Horace and his brothers from his uncle Captain Shorter's property; but Horace was not at this period a rich man, and perhaps his not marrying was owing to his dislike of fortune-hunting, or to his dread of refusal.

Two years after his father's death he took a small house at Twickenham: the property cost him nearly £14,000; in the deeds he found that it was called Strawberry Hill. He soon commenced making considerable additions to the house—which became a sort of raree-show in the latter part of the last, and until a late period in this, century.

Twickenham-so called, according to the antiquary Norden, because the Thames, as it flows near it, seems from the islands to be divided into two rivers—had long been celebrated for its gardens, when Horace Walpole, the generalissimo of all bachelors, took Strawberry Hill. “Twicknam is as much as Twynam,” declares Norden, “a place scytuate between two rivers.” So fertile a locality could not be neglected by the monks of old, the great gardeners and tillers of land in ancient days; and the Manor of Twickenham was consequently given to the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, by King Edred, in 491; who piously inserted his anathema against any person -whatever their rank, sex, or order-who should infringe the rights of these holy men. “May their memory,” the king decreed, with a force worthy of the excommunicator-wholesale, Pius IX., “be blotted out of the Book of Life; may their strength continually waste away, and be there no restorative to repair it !” Nevertheless, there were in the time of Lysons, a hundred and fifty acres of fruit-gardens at Twickenham : the soil being a sandy loam, raspberries grew

plentifully. Even so early as Queen Elizabeth's days, Bishop Corbet's father had a nursery-garden at Twickenham-so that King Edred's curse seems to have fallen as powerlessly as it may be hoped all subsequent maledictions may do. .

In 1698, one of the Earl of Bradford's coachmen built a small house on a piece of ground, called in old works, Strawberry-Hill-Shot; lodgings were here let, and Colley Cibber became one of the occupants of the place, and here wrote his Comedy called “Refusal; or the Ladies' Philosophy.” The spot was so greatly admired that Talbot, Bishop of Durbam, lived eight years in it, and the Marquis of Carnarvon succeeded him as a tenant: next came Mrs. Chenevix, a famous toy-woman. She was probably a French woman, for Father Courayer-he who vainly endeavored to effect a union between the English and the Gallican churches-lodged here some time. Horace Walpole bought up Mrs. Chenevix's lease, and after

[ocr errors]

278

THE RECLUSE OF STRAWBERRY.

ward the fee-simple; and henceforth became the busiest, if not the happiest, man in a small way in existence.

We now despise the poor, over-ornate miniature Gothic style of Strawberry Hill; we do not consider with what infinite pains the structure was enlarged into its final and wellknown form. In the first place, Horace made a tour to collect models from the chief cathedral cities in England; but the building required twenty-three years to complete it. It was begun in 1753, and finished in 1776. Strawberry Hill had one merit, every thing was in keeping: the internal decorations, the screens, the niches, the chimney-pieces, the book-shelves, were all Gothic; and most of these were designed by Horace himself; and, indeed, the description of Strawberry Hill is too closely connected with the annals of his life to be dissevered from his biography. Here he gathered up his mental forces to support and amuse himself during a long life, sometimes darkened by spleen, but rarely by solitude; for Horace, with much isolation of the heart, was, to the world, a social being.

What scandal, what trifles, what important events, what littleness of mind, yet what stretch of intellect were henceforth issued by the recluse of Strawberry, as he plumed himself on being styled, from that library of “Strawberry !" Let us picture to ourselves the place, the persons put on,

if

we can, the sentiments and habits of the retreat; look through its loopholes, not only on the wide world beyond, but into the small world within; and face the fine gentleman author in every period of his varied life.

“ The Strawberry Gazette,” Horace once wrote to a fine and titled lady, “is very barren of weeds.” Such, however, was rarely the case. Peers, and still better, peeresses-politicians, actors, actresses—the poor poet who knew not where to dine, the Mæcenas who was “fed with dedications”—the belle of the season, the demirep of many, the antiquary, and the dilettanti-painters, sculptors, engravers, all brought news to the “Strawberry Gazette;" and incense, sometimes wrung from aching hearts, to the fastidious wit who professed to be a judge of all material and immaterial things—from a burlesque to an Essay on History or Philosophy-from the construction of Mrs. Chenevix's last new toy to the mechanism of a clock made in the sixteenth century, was lavished there.

It is noonday: Horace is showing a party of guests from London over Strawberry: enter we with him, and let us stand in the great parlor before a portrait by Wright of the Minister to whom all courts bowed. “That is my father, Sir Robert, in profile," and a vulgar face in profile is always seen at its vulgarest; and the nez-retroussé, the coarse mouth, the double

[ocr errors]

PORTRAITS OF THE DIGBY FAMILY.

279

chin, are most forcibly exhibited in this limning by Wright; who did not, like Reynolds, or like Lawrence, cast a nuance of gentility over every subject of his pencil. Horace-can we not hear him in imagination ?-is telling his friends how Sir Robert used to celebrate the day on which he sent in his resignation, as a fête; then he would point out to his visitors a Conversation-piece, one of Reynolds's earliest efforts in small life, representing the second Earl of Edgecumbe, Selwyn, and Williams—all wits and beaux, and habitués of Strawberry. Colley Cibber, however, was put in cold marble in the anteroom; respect very Horatian, for no man knew better how to rank his friends than the recluse of Strawberry. He hurries the lingering guests through the little parlor, the chimneypiece of which was copied from the tomb of Ruthall

, Bishop of Durham, in Westminster Abbey. Yet how he

pauses complacently to enumerate what has been done for him by titled belles : how these dogs, modeled in terra-cotta, are the production of Anne Damer; a water-color drawing by Agnes Berry; a landscape with gipsies by Lady Di Beauclerk; all platonically devoted to our Horace; but he dwells long, and his bright eyes are lighted up as he pauses before a case, looking as if it contained only a few apparently faded, of no-one-knows-who (or by whom) miniatures; this is a collection of Peter Oliver's best works-portraits of the Digby family.

How sadly, in referring to these invaluable pictures, does one's mind revert to the day when, before the hammer of Robins had resounded in these rooms--before his transcendent eloquence had been heard at Strawberry-Agnes Strickland, followed by all eyes, pondered over that group of portraits : how, as she slowly withdrew, we of the commonalty scarce worthy to look, gathered around the spot again, and wondered at the perfect life, the perfect coloring, proportion, and keeping of those tiny vestiges of a by-gone generation!

Then Horace-we fear it was not till his prime was past, and a touch of gout crippled his once active limbs-points to a picture of Rose, the gardener (well named), presenting Charles II. with a pine-apple. Some may murmur a doubt whether pine-apples were cultivated in cold Britain so long since. But Horace enforces the fact; "the likeness of the king,” quoth he, “is too marked, and his features are too well known to doubt the fact;" and then he tells “how he had received a present the last Sunday of fruit—and from whom.”

They pause next on Sir Peter Lely's portrait of Cowleynext on Hogarth's Sarah Malcolm, the murderess of her mistress; then—and doubtless, the spinster ladies are in fault here for the delay-on Mrs. Damer's model of two kittens, pets,

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »