Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

when they made their court," falls from his guarded lips. Farther, the new king is despatched with the briefest notice-his acts, his travels, his ordinances, and his death, receive only such a record as the merest official might give them; perhaps because the old English courtier is too proud to acknowledge offence on his own part with one who has at least redeemed the Church and commonweal -perhaps because he has in reality little opportunity of knowing this selfabsorbed and secret royalty, who is not given to communication. The personal friendship of Charles and James, though Evelyn's upright soul could not much approve of either, must still have left a grudge against this foreign supplanter of their race, and the current of the historian's life begins of itself to run dry and thin, a narrowed stream. His children die, and are married; Sayes Court, where he has so long been hospitable, is let to one tenant and another, and gets devastated by rude Czar Peter and his train; and the old man, getting nearly eighty, goes to Wotton, to which he succeeds as male representative of his family when he reaches his full fourscore years. Gayer and more graphic in his letters than in his solemn and authoritative Diary, it is thus the patriarch writes of his own household estate and comforts shortly before his brother's death :

My grandson is so delighted in books that he professes a library is to him the greatest recreation, so I give him free scope here, where I have near upon 22,000 Iquery 2000) (with my brother's), and whither I would bring the rest had I any room, which I have not, to my great regret, having hore so little conversation with the learned-unless it be when Mr Wotton (the learned gentleman beforementioned, the friend of Dr Bentley) comes now and then to visit me, he being tutor to Mr Finch's son at Albury, but which he is now leaving to go to his livingthat without books, and the best wife and brother in the world, I were to be pitied; but with these subsidiaries, and the revising some of my old impertinences, to the which I am adding a discourse I made on Medals (lying by me long before Oba diah Walker's Treatise appeared), I pass some of my Attic nights, if I may be so vain as to name them with the author of those criticisms. For the rest, I am plant

ing an evergreen grove here to an old house ready to drop, the economy and hospitality of which my good old brother will not depart from, but more veterum kept a Christmas, in which we had not fewer than three hundred bumpkins every holy-day.

We have here a very convenient

apartment of five rooms together, besides a pretty closet, which we have furnished with the spoils of Sayes Court, and is the raree-show of the whole neighbourhood, and in truth we live easy as to all domestic cares. Wednesday and Saturday nights we call lecture-nights, when my wife and myself take our turns to read the packets of all the news sent constantly from London, which serves us for discourse till fresh news comes; and so you have the history of a very old man and his not young companion, whose society I have enjoyed more to my satisfaction these three years here, than in almost fifty before, and am now every day trussing up to be gone, I hope to a better place."

Pepys, by this time retired to Clapham, and living with his former clerk, William Hewer, is childless, wifeless, and solitary in his old age, but it is comfortable to know that the ancient house of Evelyn survives in his grandson. And the Admiralty clerk has retired from all his offices-from public life entirely, indeed-while Evelyn is still alert and busy, laying the foundations of Greenwich Hospital, and labouring in his vocation still, though the more virtuous chronicler is the elder man. We can only judge of Samuel by his letters now, and these letters are epistles of edifying propriety, grave, temperate, and modest, with less hyperbole, and even less lightness of tone, than Evelyn's own. The contemporaries seem to change character in their correspondence; it is the patrician who now condescends to playful self-disclosure, whereas the Samuel of the Diary, with all his wicked vanities, his levity, and selfindulgence, is lost in the decorous Mr Pepys, so conscientious as to give up his appointments on the abdication of his royal patron, so learned in all the arts and sciences as to qualify him for the President's place among the philosophers of the Royal Society, altogether a

notable and famous man. His old peering curiosity, dignified into philosophical research, sets about inquiries touching the second-sight, on which

subject there are various letters from Lord Reay, and one from no less a name than Clarendon, son of the chancellor, and uncle to the queen, and curious mathematical questions, wherein he has a correspondent no less illustrious than Sir Isaac Newton. With Evelyn, Pepys boasts a frequent and most complimentary correspondence; nor does he want the respectful salutations of learned university doctors, and other magnates of the times; and in his learned leisure at Clapham, a patron of the arts, a benefactor of Alma Mater, anotable virtuoso in his own person, we look with much bewilderment for our ancient friend Samuel, with his twinkling merry eyes and wicked wishes, his simple honest vanity, and all his unveiled devices, for good and for evil. Perhaps he is only another specimen of the moderating effects of old age-perhaps only a shining exemplar of the facility with which a man can disguise himself from the observation of his fellows. Whatever the cause is, Pepys dies at last, full of honours - honours which he might have kept for ever, to the edification of posterity, but for these guilty volumes in the Pepysian library, which betray the respectable Samuel. If Samuel could but have foreseen that John Smith, illustrious name! hidden afar in the profound depths of time and nature, who was destined to bring the hidden record of all his evil ways to light!

――――

With his own decorous and dignified hand Evelyn brings his record to a close. A sad record it comes to be in these last years. Autumn and coming winter are darkening over the wood; the leaves and the fruit fall heavily graveward; one and another passes before him into the other country, and solemnly come these birthdays, silent remembrancers of his own approaching end. So the old man sets his house in order, commits himself to God, and begins to be "exceeding ill, his indisposition increasing;" and, thus devout and well appointed, the master of Wotton goes forth upon his last journey, takes farewell of his fair gardens, his incomparable rarities of art, his books, and his labours, and all his delightsgoes forth, and is no more.

Charles, who looks as if he might

have been a heroic king, had he but had the fate to be a true one; Oliver, born in the purple, a man to whom empire and rule were a natural heritage; Charles II., poor vicious soul, whose name it is best to speak softly, and forget; James, unwise and limited, a natural-born servant, not a king; William, who is an institution, and no person; and, lastly, good roundabout Queen Anne-all except the last come to the culmination and conclusion of their reign and fate during the two contemporary lives whose course we have followed. A great rebellion-an unnatural usurpationa happy restoration—a glorious revolution-follow each other in these eventful years, and liberties and crowns lost, gained, and bartered, crowd upon the pages of history with almost unexampled speed. History, following Sir Walter's famous prescription, can but make "a great stour" of it all, with here the sworded arm of Cromwell, and there the austere and self-contained figure of William, subduing the vexed and fiery elements; and we are fain to turn aside to the lower range of atmosphere, the homely domestic firmament, which may indeed catch a frequent stain and cloud from those flying thundery vapours, but is still the unchangeable human sky, with its sunrise and its nightfall, constant as our own. How the common life goes on through all the paroxysms of national existence, how the mightiest crisis of an empire fails to overset the natural balance of a working-day, how tables are spread and houses erected in spite of wars and rumours of wars, how hearts are deeper touched with the old primitive emotions of nature than with all the politics of kingdoms-is a lesson of singular interest; and nothing can show it more plainly than do the books and the personages before us. Public personages, good posterity, but human men-living their own immediate days one by one, without much thought of your opinion of them, and being no more influenced than they could help by the convulsions of their time. To us who can sit by, and look on, well-bred spectators of a distant battle-growing mightily impatient, in the mean time, that no battle is made for our

entertainment-it is rather difficult to realise the small discomposure which a battle close at hand gives to the accustomed nerves of the seventeenth century; but it is well to know how soon the grass grew again over the devastated field, how quickly the mounds of the slain were mantled over with the reverent veil of nature, and how little the daily routine and household use and wont could be disturbed. Nothing among us threatens the return of such a time as that which produced John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys the day is over, and may not

come back again; but this stout old British land, a sturdy liver, which managed to breathe throughout all that tempest, is hale and strong for many a tempest more; and it would not be easy to over-calculate the national strength and equipoise which come from this fact, that we do not as a nation rush into the vortex of a great event in public tumult and frenzy, but that every British citizen and member of the commonweal has his private life as well, and lives it thoroughly, let public commotions fare as they may.

THE SECRET OF STOKE MANOR: A FAMILY HISTORY.

PART II.

CHAPTER II.-SUB ROSA; OR, THE POLISHED MANNERS.

"Uti gramen est omnis caro: ejusque omne decus instar floris agrorum!"-VULGATE.

SUCH the origin of the Willoughbies in the obscure dawn of British history. Settling in the south-western counties, the rich soil sobering down their early fierceness, they became gradually separated into two distinct branches of very opposite character: for those in Devonshire, being the elder, richer, and more powerful, grew in every generation more firmly attached to hereditary rights and accustomed habits; whereas, in Somerset, having gained less, the younger cherished a constant jealousy of their relatives. They showed an eager tendency, when occasion rose, to favour any novel claim or usurpation, especially if that seemed likely to prevail. Turbulence was their element: and no small sagacity, doubtless, with a corresponding boldness of view, must have distinguished the Somerset Willoughbies in their adaptation to events; for they seldom emerged from a civil strife, joined in a plot, mingled with a revolution, or concurred with a political party, up to the times of William of Orange, without having in some way availed themselves of it to enhance their own position or resources. A numerous race, with equal diversity of plan, it was strange if one or other of them were not so situated as to reap the benefit of any crisis whatso

ever. Under the house of Hanover one of their very obscurest members rose conspicuous, and finally gained a title; power, place, and emolument accruing to many of his connections.

The Earl of Oakleigh belonged to the great popular party, or combination of the friends of privilege. He had been bred a lawyer, and had succeeded through forensic ability of

no

common kind, elicited by the events of the Jacobite risings; while marrying the only daughter of a Bristol sugar-baker, and becoming sole possessor of his father-in-law's wealth, commerce had also contributed to his ultimate elevation. He had been faithful through all circumstances to his political allies, and was understood to revere the memory of Chatham as that of a dear friend, whose most winning qualities were not generally appreciated, nor easy to declare. He had ties of blood with the Treasury offices, as well as former servants in posts of easy duty, yet sufficient profit, suited to their years or their past efforts; his cousins were in the army, his nephews-in-law in the navy; it was thought that he could command a future seat in the Cabinet itself, could already influence several votes among the Peers, and absolutely dispose of more in the

Commons; having full sway over at least three small boroughs, with predominant importance in two shires. The whole family looked up to him as its head and representative, although formerly supposed to have almost forgotten the existence of that particular line to which he belonged. Indeed, for some time, when any of them died childless, or quarrelled with their nearer relatives, or cut off their heirs, or made much money abroad, various members of it had shown a tendency of the purest kind, which altogether excluded the idea of interested motives, to remember him in their wills, along with the public charities. There were even. persons quite unconnected with it or him, of names totally different-persons of character so eccentric or of lives so secluded, as unexpectedly to bequeath him their entire fortunes. His reputation was unspotted: there was a warmth and intensity about the public estimation of him, which might have satisfied the vanity of a poet. Nor could the mere sneers of political opponents lessen it; they rather enhanced its force. He looked severe, doubtless; but the weight of so much anxiety for the country, the knowledge of such solemn State secrets, so much corruption, and so much factious hostility, rendered it impossible to look otherwise; another aspect would have been heartless. It was to those who fancied they had claims on him, probably, that he appeared very cold, distant, and elaborate; he was perhaps the very haughtiest and most aristocratic of living noblemen, since the death of Chatham, to all among whom he moved; and the state, the show, the loftiness of his establishments were conspicuous: but it was the countess, the daughters, the porter, the footmen, the horses, the carriagedogs, that were alone supercilious, unconscious of the very air and ground, too elevated for the common eye. The earl bowed, he smiled, he saw the looking people; those who had ever reached him, heard his words, or known his bounty, were reported to have found him the most graciously condescending of all peers.

And it was down in Somersetshire only, or over in Essex, that he was not more popular than his household

and dependants. There they had a profound awe of him, scarcely justified enough, at least by any precise acts, for personal fear; since, if a pheasant had been shot before his eyes, a hare been carried along the road, or a trespasser come tumbling over the fence out of the woods, his eyes would not have seen it. When all at once the earl's large hard face was seen dimly rolling by, behind the carriage-glass, it leant back with much dignity. There was in it an utter absence of ordinary curiosity or common interest, supreme indifference to all opinion, and marks of a self-command that had long ceased to cost any pains. Exceedingly appropriate to all notions of an earl, too, was the inattention to passing objects, the want of wonder at anything above or below; the heedlessness of turnpikes and waggons, the ignorance of rain, or wind, or hot sunshine. They stared after him for minutes; but hardly rose to astonishment how it could be kept up, to questions whether it would last all along the road for miles, or to doubt if it would ever relax in private to the countess that sat by his side.

Different, indeed, had been the fortunes or the fates of the other Willoughbies, the elder and less active branch. They had been unhesitating Lancastrians; they had been stubborn Catholics; they had been devoted Cavaliers, luckless Jacobites; for anything further, that scattered and secluded state in which they survived the long course of their mishaps, seldom raised them even to the confused ranks of the country party, or to the opprobrious prominence of Toryism. They had in all manner of ways lost knowledge of each other, got out of sight, and grown obscure-to be extinguished in exile, or, it might be, earn distinction in Russia, and among the Austrians; to go abroad and disappear wherever there was war in India, or at sea, or across the Atlantic. Unless as quiet squires or peaceful vicars, taking to antique studies of the fathers and monumental brasses, or to the keeping up of ancient rights, so that if the first old English gentleman were sought, one of the olden time, or the original of the reverend Primrose, he would probably have been found a Willoughby in no parti

cular shire. There was really a lamentable want of the corporate spirit of organisation about them all; a vis inertia seemed their best attribute at home, while it cannot be denied that an apparent deficiency of intellect characterised too many of them among their best friends. In fact, not a few had that unfortunate popularity which attends misfortune like an omen, fulfilling its own foresight: many acquaintances, innumerable kinsmen, a tenantry by whom they were beloved, whom they could ill find in their hearts to urge, or to be strict with; noisy cordiality before the face, and confidential anxiety behind the back, and no unwelcome advisers at all. They had a cheerful homely life, familiar with field-sports, with country customs, and the neighbours; wide hearths, and oaken boards, and large best-chambers in the gables, sometimes haunted; much company, great sympathy, and gradual decay. Their family meetings were indeed occasions at which fortunate events would transpire; a return or a birth would seem all at once to scatter a host of besieging cares; the whole country was astir, all the bells rung at their weddings; happy recollections and merry stories drove out the dreary ones. But in meet proportion were their partings bitter; the sound of the funeral-bell would sometimes smite half a day upon their hearts; the phantoms and the gloom returned like avengers. And so ran obscurer every generation the lot of these families, as if to blot them out.

The ancient castle of Merltor had long been crumbling; but it had survived its lords-nay, their very representatives had disappeared; while with ivied battlement and blank window, its remnant still stood on the verge of Somersetshire, on an estate that had for ages descended in another family altogether, having escheated from one of the austerest Puritans to the crown, and been conferred at the Revolution on a soldier of Dutch origin, whose heirs now suffered the ruin to overlook their park. Deanstoke Priory had become a private mansion, in the woods near a little market-town; it was at Stoke, hard by in Devonshire, that the oldest known branch of the Willoughbies had their property. Their position

became the more curious, after the elevation of the Earl of Oakleigh; seeing that they not only were understood to represent most nearly the forgotten barons of old, but were then found to be somewhat accidentally the presumptive head of this modern peerage. Of all the various families of the name, they two were alone distinguished by the same legendary motto beneath the armorial crest; a fact the more peculiar, since it displayed an emphatic change on the old baronial device, so cherished by all the rest, of an armed hand grasping a battle-axe, with the Teutonic words, " By dint of might." For in one of the unhappy conflicts during the old wars of the two Roses, a Yorkite Willoughby had been wounded and taken prisoner by Lord de Merltor, who kept him captive in his castle; where, however, the young esquire grew enamoured of the baron's daughter, and after no small anger on her father's part, with peremptory denial, yet obtained her hand at the cost of estrangement from his own family; ere the happy example had been yet set, when the White and Red Roses mingled in the union of York and Lancaster.

It was, perhaps, to signalise this junction, or to mark a freedom from the enmities of either house, inspired by the fair Rosamond's love, that, quartering their arms together, the young man assumed these new bearings on the marriage-day. The baron gave them his lands of Stoke, held from the Priory, where gentle Lady Gwen of old had raised her rustic chapel; there their heirs, about Elizabeth's time, rebuilt Stoke Manor House which had been burnt down, and made the old chapel but a part of a parish church, with a tall tower and bells. A scion of this house was the progenitor of James Henry Willoughby Atkinson, Earl of Oakleigh, who had assumed his wife's name by testament from her father. But a Jacobite country baronet, the earl's uncle, a man very different in most respects from him, had eloped from Stoke with young Mary Willoughby, a distant cousin of his own, who had a fortune in her own right, and died early. Their sons succeeded to the baronetcy, and to Stoke itself, so that after the earl's son, then abroad, and after his

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »