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A DAY AT FONTHILL ABBEY. The world may just at present be divided into two classes of persons; those who have seen Fonthill Abbey, and those who have not : and it is the somewhat monopolizing and ambitious desire of this paper to make itself agreeable to both these classes. For the former, it would endeavour to retrace the scenes which they have lately visited, but which the cursory glance they were compelled to take at them can scarcely have permanently fixed on their memory, and which a second view of this kind may perhaps effect; and to the latter it would present the best, because the only substitute they will be able to compass, by the time they are reading this. But to each it can only hope to offer a sketch, an outline, a mere pen-and-ink drawing of the scene in question ;-leaving the fillings-up, the colouring, and the light and shade, to be supplied by the memory of the one and the imagination of the other.
The domain of Fonthill is so extensive, and the attractions it offers to the spectator are so numerous and various, that, in order to apply our limited time and resources in the most advantageous manner, shall adopt the arrangement laid down for the casual visitors to this singular spot; for we can afford but a day to what cannot be duly examined and explored in less than a month ;--unless, indeed, the readers of the New Monthly Magazine are disposed to meet in a body, and sign a Round Robin to the Editor, insisting on our being allowed to exercise "sole sovereign sway and mastery” in these pages during the next or any given month. In which case, on receiving due notice and double pay, we will engage to supply the usual number and variety of articles, including the usual quantity of entertainment, and of course written with the usual, or rather the unusual portion of talent,—the subject-matter being all drawn from this fertile source. In the mean time, we must proceed in the routine above-named.
Placing the reader at once before the outer gateway of what is called the Old Park, we will first invite him to admire the grand character of this almost triumphal arch, and then, passing through its noble portal, enter the outward inclosure of the grounds immediately attached to the mansion. On passing this gate we find ourselves on the borders of a noble lake, the banks of which rise majestically on the opposite side, and are clothed with a rich grove of forest trees, of an immense height. The first sight that we have to point out, as not exactly consistent with the true taste that we had expected to find reigning and ruling throughout this spot, is a whole flock of swans, congregating together on the lake. There is a saying, that “some people's geese are all swans ;” but it is quite as great and as common a mistake, to make all our swans into geese. There is nothing enhances the value of a thing like its rarity ;-or rather its value chiefly consists in its rarity, if it is an object of mere ornament. Even if it be ever so beautiful to the sight, its beauty loses its effect in proportion as it becomes multiplied. The swan that
on still St. Mary's lake
Floats double, swan and shadow," is a lovely and highly poetical object; but multiply it to a whole flock, and the charm is broken at once. A swan is an object which depends,
for its effects, purely and entirely on the beauty of its form and motion; its appearance as an ornament to natural scenery should therefore be, like those of angels, “ few, and far between.” The effect of a whole company of moons floating through the sky together, would border on the ludicrous; and a whole flock of swans are, upon the same principle, no better than so many geese !
“But how is this?" we hear our companion exclaim ; “ a Cicerone turned critic, will never do. We came all this way to see beauties, not defects; and unless we look for them, we never can see them. Away, then, with the critical spirit, and shew us nothing but what is worth seeing-or rather, worth coming to see ; which faults and defects can in no case be, though they were the finest that were ever committed." The reproof is merited, and we bow before it, and stand corrected. Once for all, then, this spot does include many points well worthy of discommendation ; and let those who like the task, undertake to supply this desideratum.
This, then, is the portal, behind which has been rising, year by year for a quarter of a centạry,—“rising like an exhalation”
-a scene which was said to surpass the fictions of eastern fancy, and which was created apparently only that it might not be seen! And what is the “Open Sesame !" which is at last to dissolve the charm, and lay bare these mysterious inclosures to the rude and vulgar gaze of all comers ?
Alas! a little bit of gold !-Gold-the only universal picklock-the only veritable uqua mirabilis, which can dissolve all things—the only true Talisman of Oromanes,—which no force nor art can withstand, and which, sooner or later, all things must and will give way before—from the most accessible and yielding, to the least so-from the conscience of a politician to the pride of a misanthrope--from the impalpable echoes of Saint Stephen's Chapel, to the massive portals of Fonthill Abbey ! That which would not hitherto have moved at the mandate of all the Sovereigns of Europe, the Holy Alliance included, now flies open of itself a hundred times a day, at the mere sight of a half-sutereign, presented by the, perchance, soiled fingers of a London cockney or a country boor!
Proceeding along the carriage-way through the old park, with the fine lake before mentioned lying all along the view on the left, backed by a lofty grove of trees, and embowered lawns rising and falling on the right, we presently arrive at an elevated spot, where this part of the domain terminates; and passing on for a short distance to the westward, along a public lane, we reach a rusticated lodge, beside a gateway cut in the wall wbich surrounds the whole inner portion of the grounds.
There is a pleasant story connected with this wall, which may amuse us while we are waiting our turn to be admitted through its mysterious gateway. Two young gentlemen, one of whom has since turned out an enterprising traveller, and whose success may probably be traced to the spirit excited by the romantic termination of this first adventure, contrived to scale this barrier, and make their way into the groundsattracted by the rumoured wonders of the place. But it so happened, that they were almost immediately met by the owner, who, instead of directing his servants to shew them the yate, received them with a haughty politeness, and, after leading them through the splendours of
VOL. VII. NO, XXXIV.
bis solitary dwelling, set them down to a princely entertainment. When night arrived, however, and they proposed to take their leave, (doubtless overjoyed with the success of their adventure, and anticipating the curiosity and envy they should excite among their friends, by the tale they had to tell,) they were conducted to the spot where they had been first met, and informed, that, as they had found their way in, they might now find their way out again as well as they could! And they were left to themselves! What became of them, it is difficult to guess, and they themselves have probably never disclosed: for the place is a perfect labyrinth even in the day-time, and there is a single pathway through it which measures above twenty miles, without once crossing or retreading a footstep of the same ground. This capital piece of practical wit was not unworthy the author of Vathek, and is in fact, not unlike some of those bitter ones which Vathek himself used occasionally to indulge in.
The avenue we enter on passing through the above-named gate, consists of a narrow carriage-way, with a greensward path on each side of it, bounded and shut in by a thick plantation, chiefly consisting of firs, larches, and pines, the spaces between the pillar-like stems of which are filled by a variety of flowering shrubs, and wild underwoods, so that you cannot judge of its extent, except by the almost impenetrable darkness which pervades it wherever you attempt to look through; with the exception, however, of one point, where a magnificent view of the adjacent country suddenly breaks upon you at an unexpected opening on the left, near the termination of the road. This road is above a mile in length, and winds about perpetually, so that you can never see for a hundred yards before you; and you get no glimpse of any object but the road itself and the bordering plantation, except at the opening I have just noticed.
Before we reach the summit of this road, which ascends nearly the whole length of it, let us examine this delightful carpet on which we are treading : it is worth the trouble ; for it is rarer than that which proceeds from the rarest looms of Persia. Nothing but the absolute Bolitude which has reigned in this spot during so many years, could have completed the formation of such a one. You observe, as your feet cease to press upon it, it springs up from under them, as if it were not made or accustomed to be trod upon. It is composed of a thick elastic body of various kinds of evergreen moss, low ground-fern that is almost like moss, wild thyme, and numerous sweet-smelling groundflowers; the whole matted and interlaced together by a network of wild strawberries ; their innocent little flowers peeping out here and there, as if afraid, yet anxious to be seen. Smile not contemptuously, gentle reader, if we now ask you to step off this sweet border, and not to make a common footpath of it. It was made for the eye and the mind, not for the feet; and if we do nothing better than induce you to keep on this gravel road instead, we shall not have accompanied you here in vain, either as it regards ourselves or you. If Mr. Wordsworth's poetry had done nothing better than teach a ew lovers of Nature never to tread upon a daisy, the consciousness of this alone might repay him for all the ignorant and heartless vituperation it has called forth!
Having arrived within a few paces of the summit of the above road, now, for the first time, the extraordinary building, which we have
chietly come to see, bursts upon us—first its majestic tower, clothed, as it frequently is, in obscuring mists, which almost give it the appearance of descending from the clouds, instead of ascending to them; then the crowd of subject towers, turrets, and spires, which cluster round about it; and lastly, that gigantic wing which projects from the eastern side, and forms the exterior of the great baronial hall-not yet completed. It is not part of our plan to pause here, and examine the details of this unique building, which, on a slight turn of the road, we now stand in the august presence of. Whether viewed from this point, or from any of the numerous others which the grounds afford, we shall find, that the general impression derived from it, is of a complicated nature, but in every respect commensurate with the means which have been lavished to produce it.
Before we proceed farther in our examination of this stupendous building and the external objects connected with it, we had, perhaps, better at once take a cursory glance at its interior ; for, otherwise, we may chance to get so imbued with the impressions of its external grandeur, as to be disposed to look at its internal and merely ornamental riches in too critical a taste.
The view which we have now seen of the Abbey must be considered as the back part of it; and it is here that, following the routine laid down for the casual visitors, we will enter,-at a little low portal, latticed, and opening to a small narrow passage.
Those who are disposed to exclaim against this unimposing entrance, (and this number includes nearly all that come,) should remember that it belongs to the otices alone; and is, under the usual circumstances, intended merely for the servants: the principal entrance itself, looking to the West, being incomparably the grandest portion of the building.
On passing through the Eastern entrance just named, the first room we enter is one which gives a good foretaste of the splendours we are to expect in the rest of the internal arrangements. It is called the Oak Dining-parlour ; and though sadly disfigured at present by tables set out with ugly Dresden china, and execrable modern-looking silver plateaus, epergnes, and the “ unlike,” it is a noble apartment, enriched with elaborate oak carvings covering every part of it, except the large pannels, which are filled with tapestry. The rich massive gothic window-frames of this apartment, glazed with immense sheets of plateglass, and finished at top by small compartments of painted glass, are in admirable taste; and that portion of them which bows out on the South, forming the lower part of the oriel which is thrown out here, produces a fine effect. These windows are hung with curtains of purple damask satin, without draperies, but depending straight down from brass rods. It may here be noticed that this is the fashion of all the curtains throughout the mansion : there is not a single drapery to be seen, or any substitute for it; but merely the curtains themselves running on plain brass rods. If it were not for the extraneous objects which at present disfigure this room, it would be the richest and most characteristic that we shall see among them all. Quitting this room, which is numbered 3, we pass through a passage (4), and ascend a small confined turret (5), and, continuing on through a narrow corridor (6), we reach the Oak Library (7). Here we find a vast variety of splendid works on Art, such as the Florence, Dresden, and Orleans
Galleries, &c., and a charming little sculpture of a reclining Nymph. The room itself calls for no particular remark. Leaving it, we pass on to a little boudoir (8) pannelled entirely with cedar-wood, in which we find the finest work in bronze which this collection contains. It is a reduced copy of the antique statue of a Faun and Child now at the Louvre. Passing on through two small antechambers, and another corridor looking to the East (9, 10, and 11), we arrive at the Gallery Cabinet (12); a sweet little room hung with crimson and gold, and presenting a splendid look-out from its high narrow. windows, each consisting of one piece of plate-glass. It is not uncommon, in passing through these rooms in company with casual visitors, to hear them complain of the want of comfort which exists throughout the place. There is no accounting for people's tastes; but they must have strange and most exclusive notions of comfort indeed, who cannot find it in some one or other of the different classes of apartments that they will meet with here, To-our thinking (and we are unluckily somewhat fastidious in such matters) this little apartment that we are now in is the very ideal of snugness and comfort ; and there are many such.
In order to preserve the routine on which we set out, we will now return through 11 and 10, to the Vaulted Library (13). Admiring, as we pass through it, the sweet and sombre stillness of this little lowroofed gallery, (for such it is), and contrasting it with the lively richness of the little Chintz Boudoir (14) in which it terminates, we now descend another turret staircase (15), and passing through a small but lofty vestibule (16), we suddenly find ourselves in a place perfectly unique in its kind, and magical in its effect on the senses as well as the imagination. This is the Grand Saloon or Octagon (17). . The centre portion of Fonthill Abbey consists of an octangular tower, springing up from amidst the surrounding portions of the building, to a height of more than two hundred and sixty feet; and it is within this tower that we now stand. We will place ourselves in the centre, and for a while contemplate the detail around us; for the general impression which this unrivalled apartment produces, it would be idle. to attempt to describe, because iņ every spectator it must vary in a thousand different degrees, according to the different associations he may connect with it, and even the mood of mind in which he may visit it. For ourselves, we have experienced its effects under every variety of circumstance; in the stillness of the fresh morning, when the sun was visiting it with his first rays—in the glare of mid-day, when gazing crowds were pacing it, looking upward and around in empty admiration, and not daring to speak, lest they should put to flight the superb silence that seems to be the presiding Genius of the place—in the gloaming of evening, when the receding light seems reluctantly to leave its gorgeous windows, majestic arches, and mysterious recesses--and finally, in the still darkness of midnight, by the guiding ray of one glinmering lamp, we have wandered through its "visible darkness," and explored the dim vestibules and vaulted corridors, and winding turrets, that adjoin to it, till the spirit of old romance became young again within us, and we have yearned to act over again The Mysteries of Udolpho !--We shall, however, not attempt to describe the general impression received from the sight of this superb saloon; but its individual features may be glanced at with advantage. Stand