Page images

Come, Idler, set that cup aside,

And tune the flute for me

Some, far away in other lands-
In this-some worse than dead-

Then-there! 't is done. Now, prithee, play Some in their graves laid quietly—

That air I love-"Te bien aimer

Pour toujours, ma Zelie."

Sweet air!-sweet flower!-sweet social looks!-

Dear friends!-young, happy heart! How now!-What! all alone am I? Came they with cruel mockery

Like shadows to depart?

Aye, shadows all-gone every face
I loved to look upon-
Hush'd every voice I loved to hear,
Or sounding in a distant ear-

"All gone!-all gone!—all gone!"

One, slumb'ring in the deep, deep sea

All gone!-all lost!—all fled!
And here am I-I live and breathe,
And stand, as then I stood,
Beside my little dainty flower-
But now, in what an alter'd hour!
In what an alter'd mood!

And yet I love to linger here

To inhale this od'rous breath-
(Faint as a whisper from the tomb)
To gaze upon this pallid bloom
As on the face of Death.

T was


IT on the noon of a cold,

bleak day in February, that I set out to visit the memorable Abbey of Newstead, once the property and abode of the immortal Byron. The gloomy state of the weather, and the dreary aspect of the surrounding country, produced impressions more appropriate to the view of such a spot than the cheerful season and scenery of summer. With melancholy feelings, then, did I proceed in search of this noble relic of conventual times, over which the departed spirit of the poet has now thrown the mantle of his genius, and cast a halo of fame, which ages will not dissipate. The estate lies on the left-hand side of the high north road, eight miles beyond Nottingham; but, as I approached the place, I looked in vain for some indication of the Abbey. Nothing is seen but a thick plantation of young larch and firs, bordering the road, until you arrive at the Hut, a small public-house by the way-side. Nearly opposite to this is a plain white gate, without lodges, which opens into the park. From the appearance which the Hut makes in Cary's Road-book, one might be led to think it an inn; and being situated so near the entrance to the park, of course a convenient place of accommodation for all visitors to the Abbey. It is, however, only a small pot-house belonging to the

estate, and does not afford even one bed. Before the gate stands a fire, spreading oak, one of the few remaining trees of Sherwood forest, the fanious haunt of Robin Hood and his associates, which once covered all this part of the county, and whose centre was about the domain of Newstead. To this oak, the only one of any size on the estate, Byron was very partial. It is pretty well known that his great uncle (to whom he suc ceeded) cut down almost all the valuable timber, partly to pay gan bling debts, and partly for pure ms chief's sake, to injure the property which he knew would pass into another branch of the family, all o whom, in consequence of his having killed Mr. Chaworth, had forsaken him. So that when Byron came into possession of the estate, and indeed the whole time he had it, it presented a very bare and desolate appear ance. Unluckily he had not fortune enough to do what has since bee done on such an enlarged scale, a with so much taste, by the present owner, Lieut. Colonel Wildman, and which alone can render the property intrinsically valuable. The soil s very poor, and fit only for the grow of larch and firs; and of these up wards of 700 acres have been plant ed. Byron could not afford the first outlay which was necessary in order ultimately to increase its worth,

[ocr errors]

that as long as he held it its rental did not exceed £1300 a year. From the gate to the Abbey is a mile. The carriage-road runs straight for about 300 yards through the plantations, when it takes a sudden turn to the right; and on returning to the left, a beautiful and extensive view over the valley and distant hills is opened, with the turrets of the Abbey rising among the dark trees beneath. The effect at this spot is admirably managed, and fully compensates for all the disappointment To the at not seeing it sooner. right of the Abbey is perceived a tower on a hill, in the midst of a grove of firs. From this part the road winds gently to the left, till it reaches the Abbey. About half a mile from the high road is another gate, with a wall running east and west. Here the plantation ceases, and the trees, from this forward, are arranged in small circular patches here and there, as if to cover the nakedness of the land. The Abbey is approached on the north side: it lies in a valley, very low, sheltered to the north and west by rising ground; and to the south, which is now to be considered the front, enjoying a fine prospect over an undulating vale. It can only be called open, properly, to the south-west, as the land on all the other sides is more A more secluded or less elevated.

spot could hardly have been chosen for the pious purposes to which it was devoted. To the north and east is a garden walled in; and to the west the upper lake, into which Byron's uncle one day threw his wife; and on the borders of which are seen the baby forts mentioned by Horace Walpole in one of his letters describing a visit to Newstead. It was here that Byron amused himself with his boat and his dogs, the qualities of one of which he has immortalized in his verses. Of the external appearance of the building, a much better be formed from of idea may, course, a glance at a drawing than from pages of description. On the west side the mansion is without any en42 ATHENEUM, VOL. 9, 2d series.


closure or garden drive, and can therefore be approached by any person passing through the park. In this open space is the ancient fountain or cistern of the convent, covered with grotesque carvings, and having water still running into a basin. The old church window, which, in an architectural point of view, is most deserving of observation, is nearly entire, and adjoins the northwest corner of the Abbey. About the mysterious sound produced at certain times by the wind on this arch (as mentioned in the thirteenth canto of Don Juan, the whole of which description relates to Newstead,) I could obtain no information. Through the iron gate which opens into the garden under the arch, is seen the dog's tomb: it is on the north side, upon a raised ground, and surrounded by steps. verses inscribed on one side of the pedestal are well known, being pub-.. lished with his poems; but the lines preceding them are not so-they run thus:

Near this spot


Are deposited the remains of one
Who possessed beauty without vanity,
Strength without insolence,

Courage without ferocity,
And all the virtues of man without his vices.


If inscribed over human ashes,
Is but a just tribute to the memory of

praise, which would be unmeaning flattery

Who was born in Newfoundland, May 1803, And died at Newstead, November 18th, 1808.

The whole edifice is a quadrangle, enclosing a court, with a reservoir and jet-d'eau in the middle, and the At this time the cloister, still entire, running round the four sides. ground was covered with deep snow. The south, now, as I have said, the principal front, looks over a pleasure garden to a small lake, which has been opened from the upper one since Byron's time. There were before two lakes, one on the west, which is the principal, and another supplied by a stream from it, at a considerable distance lower down to The entrance-door the south-east. is on the west, in a small vestibule, and has nothing remarkable in it.

On entering, I came into a large stone hall, and turning to the left, went through it to a smaller, beyond which is the staircase. The whole

of this part has been almost entirely rebuilt by Col. Wildman: indeed, during Byron's occupation, the only habitable rooms were some small ones in the south-east angle. Over the cloister, on the four sides of the building, runs the gallery, from which doors open into various apartments, now fitted up with taste and elegance for the accommodation of a family, but then empty, and fast going to decay. In one of the galleries hang two oil paintings of dogs, as large as life: one a red wolf-dog, and the other a black Newfoundland with white legs-the celebrated Boatswain. These are the dogs that used to drag him out of the lake, into which he would purposely fall to try their fidelity. They both died at Newstead. Of the latter, Byron felt the loss as of a dear friend. These are almost the only paintings of Byron's that remain at the Abbey. From the gallery I entered the refectory, now the grand drawing-room -an apartment of great dimensions, facing south, with a fine vaulted roof and polished oak floor, and splendid ly furnished in the modern style. The walls are covered with fulllength portraits of the old school. As this room has been made fit for use entirely since the days of Byron, there are not those associations connected with it which are to be found in many of the other, though of inferior appearance. Two objects there are, however, which demand observation. The first that caught my attention was the portrait of Byron, by Phillips, over the fire-place, upon which I gazed with strong feelings: it is certainly the handsomest and most pleasing likeness of him I have seen. The other is a thing about which every body has heard, and of which few have any just idea. In a cabinet at the end of the room, carefully preserved and concealed in at sliding case, is kept the celebrated

skull cup, upon which are inscribed those splendid verses:— "Start not, nor deem my spirit fled,” &c.

People often suppose, from the name, that the cup retains all the terrific appearances of a death's head, and imagine that they could "Behold through each lack-lustre, eyeless hole, The gay recess of wisdom and of wit:" not at all-there is nothing whatever startling in it; nothing can be cleaner and less offensive-in fact, nobody would know, were he not told, that it was not a common bone bowl. It is made of the crown of the head cut straight off, so that all the disgusting portion of a skull is avoided; is well polished; its edge is bound by a broad rim of silver; and it is set in a neat stand of the same metal, which serves as a handle, and upon the four sides of which, and not on the skull itself, the verses are engraved. It is, in short, in appearance, a very handsome utensil, and one from which the most fastidious person might (in my opinion) drink without scruple. It was always produced after dinner when Byron had company at the Abbey, and a bottle of claret poured into it. It was wrought by a man at Nottingham, who was severely reproved by a worthy di vine not far from Newstead for this profanation of the dead. The reply of the workman, that he should be happy to make a similar one out of his head after death, upon being equally well paid for the trouble, so alarmed the reverend gentleman, that he was taken seriously ill, and confined for a considerable time to his house. An elegant round li brary table is the only article of furniture in this room that belonged to Byron, and this he constantly used. It may here be observed as a matter of course, and a thing applicable to the other rooms as well as to this, that the windows of the Abbey origi nally looked into the cloister of quadrangle, and that the present ones are of modern date. With this exception, and not taking into consi

deration the destruction of the church and other buildings belonging to the Abbey, it does not appear that the structure has undergone material changes in its external form or internal arrangement. Beyond the refectory, on the same floor, is Byron's study, now used as a temporary dining-room, the entire furniture of which is the same that was used by him it is all very plain-indeed ordinary. A good painting of a battle, over the sideboard, was also his. This apartment, perhaps beyond all others, deserves the attention of the pilgrim to Newstead, as more intimately connected with the poetical existence of Byron. It was here that he prepared for the press those first effusions of his genius, which were published at Newark under the title of Hours of Idleness. It was here that he meditated, planned, and for the most part wrote, that splendid relort to the severe critique they had called down, which placed him at once among the first poets, and stamped him as the keenest satirist of the day. And it was here that his tender and beautiful verses to Mary Chaworth (afterwards and now Mrs. Musters,) and many of those sweet pieces found among his miscellaneous pocms, were composed. Then a place of deep and abstracted thought-now of merriment and rejoicing but the memory of Byron flings over it a charm which attracts more strongly than the most sumptuous banquet. From the study I passed through several other rooms, fitted in the modern style as sitting and bed-rooms for the use of a family of rank all extremely neat and tasteful, and kept in beautiful order: but having been in his time totally unhabitable, in no way remarkable as concerns the noble poet. His bed-room is smail, and still remains in the same state as when he occupied it. It contains little worthy of notice besides the bed, which is of 'common size, with gilt posts, surmounted by coronets. Over the fire-place is a picture of Murray the old family servant (now dead,) who


Byron to Gibraltar when he first went abroad. A picture of Henry VIII., and another portrait in this room, complete the enumeration of all the furniture or paintings of Byron's remaining at the Abbey. In some of the rooms are very curiously carved mantlepieces with grotesque figures, evidently of old date. In a corner of one of the galleries there still remained the fencing foils, gloves, masks, and single sticks, he used in his youth. A certain honourable M. P., who was once as able a combatant in blows as he has since proved in words, might perchance recognise these implements of war, having received from them raps as severe, perhaps, as any he has had within the walls of St. Stephen's. In a corner of the cloister lies a stone coffin (which may also be remembered by another gentleman, Mr. SD), taken from the burial-ground of the Abbey. The ground floor contains some spacious halls, and divers apartments for domestic offices

many in a state unfit for occupation, and filled with repairing materials. There is a neat little private chapel in the cloister, where service is performed on Sundays. Byron's sole recreation here was his boat and dogs, and boxing and fencing for exercise, and to prevent a tendency to obesity-which he dreaded. His constant employment was writing; for which he used to set up as late as two or three o'clock in the morning. His life here was an entire seclusion, devoted to poetry.

The present servants' hall was then the dining-room; it is a large cold place, paved with stone: but was one of the few rooms impervious to the weather. Byron first sold the estate to Mr. Claughton, for the sum, as I am informed by the then bailiff to it, of 135,000l. ; and upon the agreement not being completed, Mr. C. paid forfeit of 25,000l.;-but I do not vouch for the accuracy of this statement. It was then sold to Lieut. Col. Wildman for 95,000l.much more than its intrinsic value.


Notwithstanding all that has been done, a large sum of money would be required to complete the repairs. During the last five years of Byron's minority, the Abbey was tenanted by Lord De Ruthven for 100l. a year, for the purposes of sporting. Besides the principal entrance from the high road, the Abbey may be approached by a bridle road through the park from Papplewick, the nearest village to it-and from Annesley, a village two miles to the west. a pretty landscape, the way by Papplewick is best: but for effect, that by Annesley is decidedly to be preferred. By the former you pass through a newly planted avenue to the Abbey, having on the left the lower and middle lakes, and see the turrets long before you arrive. Whereas coming from Annesley, nothing is seen till you are at the top of a hill close to the Abbey, when the south front of it bursts suddenly on the sight, frowning in gloomy grandeur from below. It was from this quarter that I first saw it; and, putting aside all association of ideas, I thought a more mournful, dreary-looking place never was beheld. In winter especially, nothing can be more desolate: the bleak country around, the thinness of the population, and the miserable villages,-all impress one with feelings of melancholy. For an abbey, this is so much the better: it would require but little to put it into a state which would realize all our ideas of monastic seclusion. Even now, a

warm imagination, more especially on a dismal day, and when no com

pany is there, can easily conjure up the persons and habits of its former tenants, and fancy centuries long

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

is now the resort of dandy valets and and its follies, where the corruption forward grooms-the seat of fashion of manners of the nineteenth century taints every nobler feeling of the heart, and cold formality takes the place of cordial benevolence. From the total absence of all accommodation in the neighbouring villages, it is very inconvenient for any one not having an invitation to the Abbey to visit Newstead; and but few people unacquainted with the possessor have visited the place, nor is there much encouragement for them to do so.

I can easily conceive the annoy ance to which the possessor must be subjected by the obtrusive enthusi asm of the admirers of Byron, and make every allowance for the reluc tance manifested to have the place shewn; but surely he might have expected, when he purchased the es tate, that, in addition to the numbers who would continue to visit the Abbey as a specimen of architecture,

thousands would be attracted thither

by the fame of the poet, and would consider it more as a relic bequeathed to the admiration of posterity, than the property of a private indi




It is a circumstance, even in a philosophical point of view, by no means undeserving of attention, that at no time has any of the nations, now professing the Mahommedan

faith, possessed a drama. The ancient courts of Memphis, Jerusalem, and Susa; the modern of Bagdad, Cairo, Cordova, and Ispahan, though, in every other branch of luxury and

« PreviousContinue »