Seeing Europe with Famous Authors, Volume I. - Great Britain and Ireland
Author: Various
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I suppose ten thousand people, three-fourths of them Americans, have written descriptions of Newstead Abbey; and none of them, so far as I have read, give any true idea of the place; neither will my description, if I write one. In fact, I forget very much that I saw, and especially in what order the objects came. In the basement was Byron's bath—a dark and cold and cellar-like hole, which it must have required good courage to plunge into; in this region, too, or near it, was the chapel, which Colonel Wildman has decorously fitted up, and where service is now regularly performed, but which was used as a dogs' kennel in Byron's time.

After seeing this, we were led to Byron's own bed-chamber, which remains just as when he slept in it—the furniture and all the other arrangements being religiously preserved. It was in the plainest possible style, homely, indeed, and almost mean—an ordinary paper-hanging, and everything so commonplace that it was only the deep embrasure of the window that made it look unlike a bed-chamber in a middling-class lodging-house. It would have seemed difficult, beforehand, to fit up a room in that picturesque old edifice so that it should be utterly void of picturesqueness; but it was effected in this apartment, and I suppose it is a specimen of the way in which old mansions used to be robbed of their antique character, and adapted to modern tastes, before medieval antiquities came into fashion. Some prints of the Cambridge colleges, and other pictures indicating Byron's predilections at the time, and which he himself had hung there, were on the walls. This, the housekeeper told us, had been the Abbot's chamber, in the monastic time. Adjoining it is the haunted room, where the ghostly monk whom Byron introduces into "Don Juan," is said to have his lurking-place. It is fitted up in the same style as Byron's, and used to be occupied by his valet or page. No doubt, in his lordship's day, these were the only comfortable bedrooms in the Abbey; and by the housekeeper's account of what Colonel Wildman has done, it is to be inferred that the place must have been in a most wild, shaggy, tumble-down condition, inside and out, when he bought it.

It is very different now. After showing us these two apartments of Byron and his servant, the housekeeper led us from one to another and another magnificent chamber, fitted up in antique style, with oak paneling, and heavily carved bedsteads, of Queen Elizabeth's time, or of the Stuarts, hung with rich tapestry curtains of similar date, and with beautiful old cabinets of carved wood, sculptured in relief, or tortoise-shell and ivory. The very pictures and realities, these rooms were, of stately comfort; and they were called by the names of kings—King Edward's, King Charles II.'s, King Henry VII.'s, chamber; and they were hung with beautiful pictures, many of them portraits of these kings. The chimney-pieces were carved and emblazoned; and all, so far as I could judge, was in perfect keeping, so that if a prince or noble of three centuries ago were to come to lodge at Newstead Abbey, he would hardly know that he had strayed out of his own century. And yet he might have known by some token, for there are volumes of poetry and light literature on the tables in these royal bed-chambers, and in that of Henry VII. I saw "The House of the Seven Gables," and "The Scarlet Letter," in Routledge's edition.

Certainly the house is admirably fitted up; and there must have been something very excellent and comprehensive in the domestic arrangements of the monks, since they adapt themselves so well to a state of society entirely different from that in which they originated. The library is a very comfortable room, and provocative of studious ideas, tho lounging and luxurious. It is long, and rather low, furnished with soft couches, and, on the whole, tho a man might dream of study, I think he would be most likely to read nothing but novels there. I know not what the room was in monkish times, but it was waste and ruinous in Lord Byron's. Here, I think, the housekeeper unlocked a beautiful cabinet, and took out the famous skull which Lord Byron transformed into a drinking-goblet. It has a silver rim and stand, but still the ugly skull is bare and evident, and the naked inner bone receives the wine.

There was much more to see in the house than I had any previous notion of; but except the two chambers already noticed, nothing remained the least as Byron left it. Yes, another place there was—his own small dining-room, with a table of moderate size, where, no doubt, the skull-goblet has often gone its rounds. Colonel Wildman's dining-room was once Byron's shooting-gallery, and the original refectory of the monks. It is now magnificently arranged, with a vaulted roof, a music-gallery at one end, suits of armor and weapons on the walls, and mailed arms extended, holding candelabras.

We parted with the housekeeper, and I with a good many shillings, at the door by which we entered; and our next business was to see the private grounds and gardens. A little boy attended us through the first part of our progress, but soon appeared the veritable gardener—a shrewd and sensible old man, who has been very many years on the place. There was nothing of special interest as concerning Byron until we entered the original old monkish garden, which is still laid out in the same fashion as the monks left it, with a large oblong piece of water in the center, and terraced banks rising at two or three different stages with perfect regularity around it; so that the sheet of water looks like the plate of an immense looking-glass, of which the terraces form the frame. It seems as if, were there any giant large enough, he might raise up this mirror and set it on end.

In the monks' garden, there is a marble statue of Pan, which the gardener told us, was brought by the "Wicked Lord" (great-uncle of Byron) from Italy, and was supposed by the country people to represent the devil, and to be the object of his worship—a natural idea enough, in view of his horns and cloven feet and tail, tho this indicates at all events, a very jolly devil. There is also a female statue, beautiful from the waist upward, but shaggy and cloven-footed below, and holding a little cloven-footed child by the hand. This, the old gardener assured us was Pandora, wife of the above-mentioned Pan, with her son. Not far from this spot, we came to the tree on which Byron carved his own name and that of his sister Augusta. It is a tree of twin stems,—a birch-tree, I think—growing up side by side. One of the stems still lives and flourished, but that on which he carved the two names is quite dead, as if there had been something fatal in the inscription that has made it for ever famous. The names are still very legible, altho the letters had been closed up by the growth of the bark before the tree died. They must have been deeply cut at first.

There are old yew-trees of unknown antiquity in this garden, and many other interesting things; and among them may be reckoned a fountain of very pure water, called the "Holly Well," of which we drank. There are several fountains, besides the large mirror in the center of the garden; and these are mostly inhabited by carp, the genuine descendants of those which peopled the fishponds in the days of the monks. Coming in front of the Abbey, the gardener showed us the oak that Byron planted, now a vigorous young tree; and the monument which he erected to his Newfoundland dog, and which is larger than most Christians get, being composed of a marble, altar-shaped tomb, surrounded by a circular area of steps, as much as twenty feet in diameter. The gardener said, however, that Byron intended this, not merely as the burial-place of his dog, but for himself, too, and his sister.

HUCKNALL-TORKARD CHURCH [Footnote: From "Gray Days and Gold." By permission of, and by arrangement with, the publishers, Moffat, Yard & Co. Copyright by William Winter, 1890-1911.]

[Byron's Grave]


It was near the close of a fragrant, golden summer day when, having driven from Nottingham, I alighted in the market-place of the little town of Hucknall-Torkard, on a pilgrimage to the grave of Byron. The town is modern and commonplace in appearance,—a straggling collection of low brick dwellings, mostly occupied by colliers. On that day it appeared at its worst; for the widest part of its main street was filled with stalls, benches, wagons, and canvas-covered structures for the display of vegetables and other commodities, which were thus offered for sale, and it was thronged with rough, noisy, dirty persons, intent on barter and traffic, and not indisposed to boisterous pranks and mirth, as they pushed and jostled each other among the crowded booths. This main street terminates at the wall of the graveyard in which stands the little gray church wherein Byron was buried. There is an iron gate in the center of the wall, and in order to reach this it was necessary to thread the mazes of the marketplace, and to push aside the canvas flaps of a pedler's stall which had been placed close against it. Next to the churchyard wall is a little cottage, with a bit of garden, devoted, at that time, to potatoes; and there, while waiting for the sexton, I talked with an aged man, who said that he remembered, as an eye-witness, the funeral of Byron. He stated his age and said that his name was William Callandyne. Pointing to the church, he indicated the place of the Byron vault. "I was the last man," he said, "that went down into it before he was buried there. I was a young fellow then, and curious to see what was going on. The place was full of skulls and bones. I wish you could see my son; he's a clever lad, only he ought to have more of the suaviter in modo." Thus, with the garrulity of wandering age, he prattled on, but his mind was clear and his memory tenacious and positive. There is a good prospect from the region of Hucknall-Torkard Church, and pointing into the distance, when his mind had been brought back to the subject of Byron, my aged interlocutor described, with minute specification of road and lane,—seeming to assume that the names and the turnings were familiar to me,—the course of the funeral train from Nottingham to the church. "There were eleven carriages," he said. "They didn't go to the Abbey" (meaning Newstead), "but came directly here. There were many people to look at them. I remember all about it, and I'm an old man—eighty-two. You're an Italian, I should say," he added. By this time the sexton had come and unlocked the gate, and parting from Mr. Callandyne we presently made our way into the Church of St. James, locking the churchyard gate to exclude rough and possibly mischievous followers. A strange and sad contrast, I thought, between this coarse, turbulent place, by a malign destiny ordained for the grave of Byron, and that peaceful, lovely, majestic church and precinct at Stratford-upon-Avon which enshrine the dust of Shakespeare....

The sexton of the Church of St. James and the parish clerk of Hucknall-Torkard was Mr. John Brown, and a man of sympathetic intelligence, kind heart, and interesting character I found him to be,—large, dark, stalwart, but gentle alike in manner and feeling, and considerate of his visitor. The pilgrim to the literary shrines of England does not always find the neighboring inhabitants either sympathetic with his reverence or conscious of especial sanctity or interest appertaining to the relics which they possess; but honest, manly John Brown of Hucknall-Torkard understood both the hallowing charm of the place and the sentiment, not to say the profound emotion, of the traveler who now beheld for the first time the tomb of Byron. The church has been considerably altered since Byron was buried in it, 1824, yet it retains its fundamental structure and its ancient peculiarities. The tower, a fine specimen of Norman architecture, dark, ragged, and grim, gives indication of great age. It is of a kind often met with in ancient English towns; you can see its brothers at York, Shrewsbury, Canterbury, Worcester, Warwick, and in many places sprinkled over the northern heights of London; but amid its tame surroundings in this little colliery settlement it looms with a peculiar frowning majesty, a certain bleak loneliness, both unique and impressive. The edifice is of the customary crucial form,—a low stone structure, having a peaked roof, which is supported by four great pillars on each side of the center aisle. The ceiling, which is made of heavy timbers, forms almost a true arch above the nave. There are four large windows on each side of the nave, and two on each side of the chancel, which is beneath a roof somewhat lower than that of the main building. Under the pavement of the chancel, and back of the altar rail,—at which it was my privilege to kneel while gazing upon this sacred spot,—is the grave of Byron.... Nothing is written on the stone that covers his sepulcher except the simple name of BYRON with the dates of his birth and death, in brass letters, surrounded by a wreath of leaves in brass, the gift of the King of Greece; and never did a name seem more stately or a place more hallowed. The dust of the poet reposes between that of his mother on his right hand, and that of his Ada,—"sole daughter of my house and heart,"—on his left. The mother died on August 1, 1811; the daughter, who had by marriage become the Countess of Lovelace, in 1852. "I buried her with my own hands," said the sexton, John Brown, when, after a little time, he rejoined me at the altar-rail. "I told them exactly where he was laid when they wanted to put that brass on the stone; I remembered it well, for I lowered the coffin of the Countess of Lovelace into this vault, and laid her by her father's side." And when presently we went into the vestry, he produced the Register of Burials and displayed the record of that interment in the following words: "1852. Died at 69 Cumberland Pl. London. Buried December 3. Aged thirty-six.—Curtis Jackson." The Byrons were a short-lived race. The poet himself had just turned thirty-six; his mother was only forty-six when she passed away. This name of Curtis Jackson in the register was that of the rector or curate then incumbent but now departed....

A book has been kept for many years, at the church of Hucknall-Torkard, in which visitors desiring to do so, can write their names. The first book provided for this purpose was an album given to the church by the poet, Sir John Bowling, and in that there was a record of visitations during the years from 1825 to 1834.... The catalog of pilgrims to the grave of Byron during the last eighty years is not a long one. The votaries of that poet are far less numerous than those of Shakespeare. Custom has made the visit to Stratford "a property of easiness," and Shakespeare is a safe no less than a rightful object of worship. The visit to Hucknall-Torkard is neither as easy nor as agreeable. Torkard is neither as easy nor as agreeable.... On the capital of a column near Byron's tomb I saw two moldering wreaths of laurel, which had hung there for several years; one brought by the Bishop of Norwich, the other by the American poet Joaquin Miller. It was good to see them, and especially to see them beside the tablet of white marble which was placed on that church wall to commemorate the poet, and to be her witness in death, by his loving and beloved sister Augusta Mary Leigh,—a name that is the synonym of noble fidelity, a name that cruel detraction and hideous calumny have done their worst to tarnish. That tablet names him "The Author of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage," and if the conviction of thoughtful men and women throughout the world can be accepted as an authority, no name in the long annals of English literature is more certain of immortality than the name of Byron. His reputation can afford the absence of all memorial to him in Westminster Abbey,—can endure it, perhaps, better than the English nation can,—and it can endure the neglect and censure of the precinct of Nottingham. That city rejoices in many interesting associations, but all that really hallows it for the stranger is its association with the name of Byron. The stranger will look in vain, however, for any adequate sign of his former connection with that place. It is difficult even to find prints or photographs of the Byron shrine, in the shops of Nottingham. [Footnote: Since this paper was written the buildings that flanked the front wall of Hucknall-Torkard churchyard have been removed, the street in front of it has been widened, and the church has been "restored" and considerably altered.—Author's note to the Editor.]

DR. JOHNSON'S BIRTHPLACE [Footnote: From "Our Old Home." Published by Houghton, Mifflin Co.]


Seeking for Dr. Johnson's birthplace, I found it in St. Mary's Square (Lichfield), which is not so much a square as the mere widening of a street. The house is tall and thin, of three stories, with a square front and a roof rising steep and high. On a side-view, the building looks as if it had been cut in two in the midst, there being no slope of the roof on that side. A ladder slanted against the wall, and a painter was giving a livelier hue to the plaster. In a corner-room of the basement, where old Michael Johnson may be supposed to have sold books, is now what we should call a dry-goods store, or, according to the English phrase, a mercer's and haberdasher's shop.

The house has a private entrance on a cross-street, the door being accessible by several much worn stone-steps, which are bordered by an iron balustrade. I set my foot on the steps and laid my hand on the balustrade, where Johnson's hand and foot must many a time have been, and ascending to the door, I knocked once, and again, and again, and got no admittance. Going round to the shop-entrance, I tried to open it, but found it as fast bolted as the gate of Paradise. It is mortifying to be so balked in one's little enthusiasms; but looking round in quest of somebody to make inquiries of, I was a good deal consoled by the sight of Dr. Johnson himself, who happened, just at that moment, to be sitting at his ease nearly in the middle of St. Mary's Square, with his face turned toward his father's house.

Of course, it being almost fourscore years since the doctor laid aside his weary bulk of flesh, together with the ponderous melancholy that had so long weighed him down—the intelligent reader will at once comprehend that he was marble in his substance, and seated in a marble chair, on an elevated stone-pedestal. In short, it was a statue, sculptured by Lucas, and placed here in 1838, at the expense of Dr. Law, the reverend chancellor of the Diocese.

The figure is colossal (tho perhaps not much more so than the mountainous doctor himself) and looks down upon the spectator from its pedestal of ten or twelve feet high, with a broad and heavy benignity of aspect, very like in feature to Sir Joshua Reynold's portrait of Johnson, but calmer and sweeter in expression. Several big books are piled up beneath his chair, and, if I mistake not, he holds a volume in his hand, thus blinking forth at the world out of his learned abstraction, owl-like, yet benevolent at heart. The statue is immensely massive, a vast ponderosity of stone, not finely spiritualized, nor indeed, fully humanized, but rather resembling a great stone-boulder than a man. You must look with the eyes of faith and sympathy, or possibly, you might lose the human being altogether, and find only a big stone within your mental grasp. On the pedestal are three bas-reliefs. In the first, Johnson is represented as hardly more than a baby, bestriding an old man's shoulders, resting his chin on the bald head which he embraces with his little arms, and listening earnestly to the high-church eloquence of Dr. Sacheverell. In the second tablet, he is seen riding to school on the shoulders of two of his comrades, while another boy supports him in the rear.

The third bas-relief possesses, to my mind, a great deal of pathos, to which my appreciative faculty is probably the more alive, because I have always been profoundly imprest by the incident here commemorated, and long ago tried to tell it for the behoof of childish readers. It shows Johnson in the market-place of Uttoxeter, doing penance for an act of disobedience to his father, committed, fifty years before. He stands bare-headed, a venerable figure, and a countenance extremely sad and wo-begone, with the wind and rain driving hard against him, and thus helping to suggest to the spectator the gloom of his inward state. Some market-people and children gaze awe-stricken into his face, and an aged man and woman, with clapsed and uplifted hands, seem to be praying for him. These latter personages (whose introduction by the artist is none the less effective, because, in queer proximity, there are some commodities of market-day in the shape of living ducks and dead poultry,) I interpreted to represent the spirits of Johnson's father and mother, lending what aid they could to lighten his half-century's burden of remorse.

I had never heard of the above-described piece of sculpture before; it appears to have no reputation as a work of art, nor am I at all positive that it deserves any. For me, however, it did as much as sculpture could under the circumstances, even if the artist of the Libyan Sibyl had wrought it, by reviving my interest in the sturdy old Englishman, and particularly by freshening my perception of a wonderful beauty and pathetic tenderness in the incident of the penance.

The next day I left Lichfield for Uttoxeter, on one of the few purely sentimental pilgrimages that I ever undertook, to see the very spot where Johnson had stood. Boswell, I think, speaks of the town (its name is pronounced Yuteox'eter) as being about nine miles off from Lichfield, but the county-map would indicate a greater distance; and by rail, passing from one line to another, it is as much as eighteen miles. I have always had an idea of old Michael Johnson sending his literay merchandise by carrier's wagon, journeying to Uttoxeter afoot on market-day morning, selling "books" through the busy hours, and returning to Lichfield at night. This could not possibly have been the case.

Arriving at the Uttoxeter station, the first objects that I saw, with a green field or two between them and me, were the tower and gray steeple of a church, rising among red-tiled roofs and a few scattered trees. A very short walk takes you from the station up into the town. It had been my previous impression that the market-place of Uttoxeter lay immediately round about the church; and, if I remember the narrative aright, Johnson, or Boswell in his behalf, describes his father's book-stall as standing in the market-place close beside the sacred edifice.

It is impossible for me to say what changes may have occurred in the topography of the town, during almost a century and a half since Michael Johnson retired from business, and ninety years, at least, since his son's penance was performed. But the church has now merely a street of ordinary width passing around it, while the market-place, tho near at hand, neither forms a part of it nor is really contiguous, nor would its throng and bustle be apt to overflow their boundaries and surge against the churchyard and the old gray tower. Nevertheless, a walk of a minute or two brings a person from the center of the market-place to the church-door; and Michael Johnson might very conveniently have located his stall and laid out his literary ware in the corner at the tower's base; better there, indeed, than in the busy center of an agricultural market. But the picturesque arrangement and full impressiveness of the story absolutely require that Johnson shall not have done his penance in a corner, ever so little retired, but shall have been the very nucleus of the crowd—the midmost man of the market-place—a central image of Memory and Remorse, contrasting with and overpowering the petty materialism around him. He himself, having the force to throw vitality and truth into what persons differently constituted might reckon a mere external ceremony, and an absurd one, would not have failed to see this necessity. I am resolved, therefore, that the true site of Dr. Johnson's penance was in the middle of the market-place.

How strange and stupid it is that tradition should not have marked and kept in mind the very place! How shameful (nothing less than that) that there should be no local memorial of this incident, as beautiful and touching a passage as can be cited out of any human life! No inscription of it, almost as sacred as a verse of Scripture on the wall of the church! No statue of the venerable and illustrious penitent in the market-place to throw a wholesome awe over its earthliness, its frauds and petty wrongs of which the benumbed fingers of conscience can make no record, its selfish competition of each man with his brother or his neighbor, its traffic of soul-substance for a little worldly gain! Such a statue, if the piety of the people did not raise it, might almost have been expected to grow up out of the pavement of its own accord on the spot that had been watered by the rain that dript from Johnson's garments, mingled with his remorseful tears.


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