« PreviousContinue »
unappeasable prudery of Diana ; and the still more provoking, and almost culinary coolness of Dan Phoebus, eel-fashion, deliberately divesting of Marsyas.
Then, that haunted room—in which old Mrs. Battle died—whereinto I have crept, but always in the day-time, with a passion of fear; and a sneaking curiosity, terror-tainted, to hold communication with the past.—How shall they build it up again?
It was an old deserted place, yet not so long deserted but that traces of the splendour of past inmates were everywhere apparent. Its furniture was still standing—even to the tarnished gilt leather battledores, and crumbling feathers of shuttlecocks in the nursery, which told that children had once played there. But I was a lonely child, and had the range at will of every apartment, knew every nook and corner, wondered and worshipped everywhere.
The solitude of childhood is not so much the mother of thought, as it is the feeder of love, and silence, and admiration. So strange a passion for the place possessed me in those years, that, though there lay-I shame to say how few roods distant from the mansion-half bid by trees, what I judged some romantic lake, such was the spell which bound me to the house, and such my carefulness not to pass its strict and proper precincts, that the idle waters lay unexplored for me; and not till late in life, curiosity prevailing over elder devotion, I found, to my astonishment, a pretty brawling brook had been the Lacus Incognitus of my infancy. Variegated views, extensive prospects—and those at no great distance from the house—I was told of such-what were they to me, being out of the boundaries of my Eden ?-So far from a wish to roam, I would have drawn, methought, still closer the fences of my chosen prison; and have been hemmed in by a yet securer cincture of those excluding garden walls. I could have exclaimed with that garden-loving poet,
Bind me, ye woodbines, in your twines;
And, courteous briars, nail me through. I was here as in a lonely temple. Snug firesides -the low-built roof-parlours ten feet by ten— frugal boards, and all the homeliness of homethese were the condition of my birth-the wholesome soil which I was planted in. Yet, without
impeachment to their tenderest lessons, I am not sorry to have had glances of something beyond; and to have taken, if but a peep, in childhood, at the contrasting accidents of a great fortune.
To have the feeling of gentility, it is not necessary to have been born gentle. The pride of ancestry may be had on cheaper terms than to be obliged to an importunate race of ancestors; and the coatless antiquary in his unemblazoned cell, revolving the long line of a Mowbray's or De Clifford's pedigree, at those sounding names may warm himself into as gay a vanity as those who do inherit them. The claims of birth are ideal merely, and what herald shall go about to strip me of an idea ? Is it trenchant to their swords ? can it be hacked off as a spur can? or torn away like a tarnished garter?
What, else, were the families of the great to us? what pleasure should we take in their tedious genealogies, or their capitulatory brass monuments ? What to us the uninterrupted current of their bloods, if our own did not answer within us to a cognate and correspondent elevation ?
Or wherefore, else, O tattered and diminished 'Scutcheon that hung upon the time-worn walls of thy princely stairs, BLAKESMOOR! have I in child
hood so oft stood poring upon thy mystic characters—thy emblematic supporters, with their prophetic “ Resurgam”-till, every dreg of peasantry purging off, I received into myself Very Gentility? Thou wert first in my morning eyes; and of nights, hast detained my steps from bedward, till it was but a step from gazing at thee to dreaming on thee.
This is the only true gentry by adoption; the veritable change of blood, and not, as empirics have fabled, by transfusion.
Who it was by dying that had earned the splendid trophy, I know not, I inquired not; but. its fading rags, and colours cobweb-stained, told that its subject was of two centuries back.
And what if my ancestor at that date was some Damætas-feeding flocks, not his own, upon the hills of Lincoln-did I in less earnest vindicate to myself the family trappings of this once proud Ægon?—repaying by a backward triumph the insults he might possibly have heaped in his life-time upon my poor pastoral progenitor.
If it were presumption so to speculate, the present owners of the mansion had least reason to complain. They had long forsaken the old house of their fathers for a newer trifle; and I was left to
appropriate to myself what images I could pick up, to raise my fancy, or to soothe my vanity.
I was the true descendant of those old W- S; and not the present family of that name, who had fled the old waste places.
Mine was that gallery of good old family portraits, which as I have gone over, giving them in fancy my own family name, one—and then another -would seem to smile, reaching forward from the canvas, to recognise the new relationship; while the rest looked grave, as it seemed, at the vacancy in their dwelling, and thoughts of fed posterity.
That Beauty with the cool blue pastoral drapery, and a lamb, that hung next the great bay window
-with the bright yellow H- shire hair, and eye of watchet hue—so like my Alice !-I am persuaded she was a true Elia-Mildred Elia, I take it.
Mine too, BLAKESMOOR, was thy noble Marble Hall, with its mosaic pavements, and its Twelve Cæsars-stately busts in marble-ranged round: of whose countenances, young reader of faces as I was, the frowning beauty of Nero, I remember, had most of my wonder; but the mild Galba had my love. There they stood in the coldness of death, yet freshness of immortality.
Mine too, thy lofty Justice Hall, with its one