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A TRIP TO HAMPTON COURT.
ONE pleasant day, as the Spring was just
dying away into Summer, with a few friends, in a private, open carriage, we made
a delightful excursion to Hampton Court. In a short time we had left Piccadilly,
the Clubs, and Hyde Park out of sight, were off the stony pavements and fields
of green, and country-houses with close-shaven lawns, and groves, were scattered
profusely on either hand. The day was clear, soft, and lovely, and the little
villages through which we passed were nestling in among the vines and shrubbery
like bird's nests. We stopped our carriage on Wimbledon Common to have a quiet
view of the place, and the surrounding scenery - for only a few moments, and
then were riding swiftly onward. In a short time we arrived at the pretty little
village of Kingston on the Thames, about fifteen miles from London. We drove to
a hotel, had our panting horses well taken care of, and after taking a luncheon,
ordered a couple of boats in which we intended to pull up to Hampton Court,
which was two or three miles distant.
Our boats were light as bark canoes, so much so that a single unlucky movement threatened a plunge into the water to us all. Our office was that of helmsman, and as soon as we were fairly upon the bosom of the stream, we saw the extreme loveliness of the scenery around us. On our right, lay the celebrated Richmond Park, its dense forests growing [-229-] almost down to the brink of the river. On the left hand (going towards Hampton Court) there were beautiful residences, the gardens of which ran down to the edge of the river. Some of these were the most beautiful and exquisitely lovely spots we ever saw, and fairly made our heart sick of life in town. Out on one of the lawns a group of rosy-cheeked children were playing, while beside them in quiet contemplation, stood two young women, fair as lilies. There were hills in the dim distance covered over with the tint of the sky, while those nearer, were green and ridged with hawthorn hedges. Here and there were groves of trees, or flocks of snow-white sheep; the merry birds were singing in every bough, and English birds can "make melody" of marvellous sweetness on summer mornings! Occasionally we rested our oars and floated silently backward on the stream while we gazed at all the sweet beauty around us, as if charmed by the scenery as a practical mesmerist charms his patient. But the tide and stream were so strong against us, that we could not afford to stop rowing long at a time, and we felt the force of that line in the old song which says:
"Row! brothers, row!-the stream runs fast "
As we glided on against the stream a song was struck up by our fellow boatmen, who were some distance in the rear, the notes of which echoed sweetly in the groves, on the banks of the river. The children, as we passed, came down to look at us and hear the song, and the birds sung louder than ever, as if to prove their undoubted right to the realm of song.
And now we were almost in sight of Bushy Park, which belongs to the Hampton Court Palace. A turn in the course of the river soon brought the Palace in full view, and a finer sight we never saw. The Park gates were just opposite us, and we could see a fine avenue of chestnut and lime trees, [-230-] fountains and statues, while back of them in magnificent splendor rose the palace which Cardinal Wolsey built for himself, but when questioned by the king, Henry VIII., why he had built a palace more sumptuous than any in the kingdom, he gracefully and at once gave it to his majesty.
Running our boats ashore, we put them into the care of a boy, and arm-in-arm passed through the little village of Hampton, and entered the gates which lead up to the magnificent Palace.
Hampton Court Palace stands on the northern bank of the river Thames, some fifteen miles west of London. The celebrated Cardinal Wolsey, who rose from a butcher's boy to be the greatest character in Henry VIII.'s reign, at the summit of his power wished to build a magnificent palace for his personal use, and wished to build it on the healthiest spot within a few miles of London. Physicians of eminence selected Hampton, where the palace was erected. It so far surpassed even the Royal palaces, that the king questioned Wolsey as to the matter, when he at once gave it to his master, who in return presented him with the manor of Richmond, a favorite residence of Henry VII.
John Skelton, a poet of Wolsey's time, wrote the following lines, which show the dissatisfaction of the people at the Cardinal's magnificence:
" The Kingyes Court
Should have the excellence!
But Hampton Court
Hath the pre-eminence;
And Yorkes place
With my Lordes grace,
To whose magnificence
Is all the confluence
State and applications
Embassies of all nations!"
[-231-] But although Cardinal Wolsey for a long time was the favorite of his monarch, and lived himself like a king, yet, finally, he fell. He was impeached, arrested for treason, and died, it is supposed, by poison administered by his own hands. Before he died, he lamented that he had not served his God as faithfully as he had his king. It is supposed that Wolsey himself furnished the designs for Hampton Palace, which will forever stand to commemorate his greatness.
Henry VIII. held several magnificent banquets in the Palace - one of them in particular, given to the French Ambassadors, was a most gorgeous pageant. Henry, who will ever be remembered by his cruelties, often lived here, and brought every one of his six wives (if we mistake not) here for a short time.
Edward VI. was born in Hampton Palace, in 1537, and his mother, poor Jane Seymour, only survived his birth a few days. Henry loved her better than any of his other wives. She it was whom he married the day after his former wife, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded.
Queen Mary and Philip of Spain, spent their honeymoon in 1558, at this place. Queen Elizabeth occasionally held scenes of festivity in it, and James I. held the celebrated conference between the Presbyterians and the members of the established church, in one of the lofty rooms of the Palace, himself acting as moderator. The result was the present translation of the Bible.
The wife of James I., Queen Anne, died here in 1618. Charles I. spent some time at Hampton Palace in 1625, to get out of the way of the plague, which was raging fearfully n London - and here too, the poor and wretched king was kept in a state of gorgeous imprisonment by Cromwell's soldiers, and from here went to the scaffold.
Elizabeth the daughter of Cromwell was married here on the 18th of November, 1657, and the following year his [-232-] favorite daughter, Mrs. Claypole, died in it. George II is the last king who has resided in it.
The Palace covers eight acres of ground. Over the archway of the gates, are the arms and motto of Cardinal Wolsey - "God is my help," and on the small towers are busts of the Roman Emperors. They were sent from Rome by Pope Leo X. to Wolsey, purposely to decorate his Grand Palace, and have recently been repaired.
This was the grand old Palace we were entering, and with all its rich historical associations in our memory, the reader will not wonder if we looked at its antiquated walls as they rested peacefully in the sunshine with something of reverence in our hearts. It was the Palace of Kings and Queens famous in the centuries which have fled away - it was the home and prison of Charles I.-and in it Cromwell, the Protector of the Commonwealth, closed in death the eyes of his favorite child.
We entered by the "King's Grand Staircase," which is crowded with allegories and devices painted by Verrio, into what is called the "Guard Chamber," a splendid apartment, sixty feet long by forty wide, and thirty in height. Here there was a grand display of armory-enough, it is said, to fully equip a thousand men. There are also several pictures, none of which attracted our special attention, save a portrait of Admiral Beubon, of whom the British sailors sing so lustily.
We next entered the "King's First Presence Chamber," and found a large collection of paintings. A portrait of the Duchess of St. Albans struck us - she was the child of poor but beautiful Nell Gwynne and Charles II. There was also another picture by Holbein, entitled " An old woman blowing charcoal," which was capital. In the second "Presence Chamber," there are among others two or three beautiful paintings by the old master, Titian, and in the "Audience Chamber" there are some excellent scripture pieces by old [-233-] masters. There is also, and we gazed long at it, a portrait by Titian of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the order of Jesuits. He was a fine-looking man, if the portrait be correct, and it must be, for it is by Titian. However, Loyola was not the founder of all the dangerous and fearful maxims which have since been adopted by the Jesuits. Venus and Cupid, by Titian, is also a beautiful painting in the same room.
In the "King's Drawing Room" there is a powerful piece by Poussin, entitled " Christ's Agony in the Garden." In "King William's Bed Room" is the identical state-bed used by Queen Charlotte. The furniture is all embroidery of the most beautiful description. The ceiling is painted by Verrio. At the head of the bed there stands a celebrated clock, which goes a year without winding up. There are several paintings hung up on the walls-one of Catherine, wife of the licentious Charles II. She, it is said, was the very pattern of meekness and piety, and though at first shocked at the conduct of her royal husband, yet never ceased to love him. She was once so ill as to be given over by her physicians, when her husband wept at her bedside, begging her to live for his sake, little supposing that she would take him at his word. But his words acted like magic upon the dying Queen, for she suddenly revived, and finally outlived the king by twenty years.
We noticed in this room a portrait of the Duchess of Portsmouth, one of Charles II's favorite mistresses. Her beauty was of the most delicate cast. She was purposely sent over to England by the French King to entrap the English monarch, and bind him to the French interest, and the scheme was successful. We saw also another of Charles' mistresses - the Duchess of Cleveland, of whom Bishop Burnet said: "She was a woman of great beauty but enormously wicked, ravenous, foolish, and imperious."
"Her Majesty's Gallery" is a large, fine apartment, and in [-234-] it there are many paintings which to us were full of interest. There were a dozen different paintings of Queen Elizabeth and never before were we so impressed with the haggish hideousness of her features.
One painting represented her when a child, and even then she was devoid of beauty. Horace Walpole says:
"A pale, Roman nose, a head of hair loaded with crowns and powdered with diamonds, a vast muff, a vaster fardingale, and a bushel of pearls are the features by which everybody knows at once the pictures of Queen Elizabeth."
One picture represents her as an old woman, and of all the horrible sights we ever have seen, that surpassed all. Cruelty, passion, and imperiousness are written in all her features. In one picture she is drawn in a quaint dress, in a forest, a stag behind her, and on a tree are some Latin rnottoes. On a scroll at the bottom of the painting, are some verses, which some suppose to have been written by Spenser, but more generally it is thought they were written by Queen Elizabeth, who it is well known, pitied away after she had consigned Essex (whom she loved) to the scaffold. They are so plaintive that we will copy them here, exactly as they are written on the scroll
"The restles swallow fits my restles mind,
In still revivinge, still reneuinge wrongs:
Her just complaint of cruelty unkinde
Are all the musique that my life prolonges,
With pensive thought my weeping stagg I crowne
Whose melancholy teares my cares expresse;
His teares in sylence, and my sighes unknowne,
Are all the physicke that my harmes redresse.
My only hope was in this goodly tree,
Which I did plant in love, bring up in care;
But all in value, for now to late I see
The shales be mine, the kernels others are.
My musique may be plaintes, my phisique teares.
If this be all the fruits my love-tree beares."
[-235-] Not one of all the portraits of Queen Elizabeth gives to her any beauty. There is a look of repulsive intellect in some or all of them, but in none is there any softness, or womanly beauty. How Leicester or Essex could ever have pretended to have, an affection for such a being, we cannot conceive. No one denies her great intellectual superiority over the women of her time, but she was also cruel as death, and without much personal morality, however much the old Conservatives of England may cry about the golden age of "good Queen Bess!"
In the same apartment there is a fine portrait of Prince Rupert.
But we will hurry on to the "Closet," which contains the cartoons of Raphael. They are so called because they are painted on sheets of paper. They were bought for Charles I. by Rubens the painter, and are the most distinguished pieces in the Palace. It seemed strange to stand before the mighty creations of Raphael's genius, which were executed in 1520, only a few years alter Columbus discovered the New World. The first of the series is entitled "The Death of Ananias," and no one can conceive how vividly all the characters stand forth upon the paper, who has not with his own eyes gazed at them. You can see the man Ananias, as if the life were not completely gone from his body ; the horror of those around him, as if it all was reality. "Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate" is another exquisite thing, and which intoxicates the gazer like the odor of June mornings. The power of such paintings over the human soul is wonderful, and cannot be otherwise than beneficial.
But we cannot record our admiration of all the paintings- we visited room after room, and at last emerged into the Great Hall, which was designed by Cardinal Wolsey. In the days of Queen Elizabeth this same Hall was used for dramatic performances, and there is a tradition that some of [-236-] Shakspeare's best plays were first performed here. In 1718, "Henry VIII., or the Fall of Wolsey," was represented in this Hall, which was once the scene of his greatest splendor. The walls are hung with beautiful arras tapestry with arabesque borders. The windows are exquisitely stained and traced.
And now we walked into the ancient and lovely gardens which surround the Palace. They were full of verdure and bloom, of fountains and statues, and sweet-smelling flowers. In one part of it we saw a grape-vine which is 110 feet long, and some distance from the ground it is 30 inches in circumference. Last year it bore near three thousand bunches of black Hamburgh grapes.
There are a hundred beautiful avenues, shadowy with linden or lime trees, whose branches were graceful and refreshing. In one part of the Gardens there is a maze or labyrinth, which was formed during King William's reign. The paths are separated from each other by high hedges, and if you are tempted to enter the dangerous place, it is doubtful whether without help you can find your way out again.
It was with a feeling of regret that we returned from the Palace - perhaps never to enter it again. But it was now time to take to our boats, and upon the tide and stream we swiftly floated down to Kingston, where we partook of an excellent dinner, and rode home in a moonlight evening that would have made a poet sing!
And we were sick, sick of the town. Give to us the open, breathing, healthy country, in preference to the noise and confusion of the town. How strange that people will flock to the cities when all heaven lies without! Peace and Beauty and holy Quiet are not to be had in town but in the country they are free, "without money and without price."
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