BY LADY MIDDLETON
"The ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad."—Book of Psalms.
WE quoted this as we stood one evening and looked over the lake's end at old John of Padua's masterpiece. And lo! as we looked, the rays of the setting sun struck the marvellous fenestration of that dainty pile till the wrought-gold garbing of the king's daughter seemed but a pallid simile, and the ivory palace stood on its hill in a blaze of splendour, while the lake-waters below us mirrored that glory in a lustre well-nigh as brilliant as its own. "To what can one compare it?" said we breathlessly. "A gorgeous gas illumination!" "A splendid transformation scene!" spoke two, of urban soul, simultaneously. "Nay, but electric light through topaz," said a more poetic imaginer. But we refused such material suggestions. "Mother," said a child—" see! the sun has gone to bed inside Wollaton!"
Flash and blaze, shine and shimmer, glitter and glow: now the light melted into pale radiances, now gleamed like yellow diamonds, and then would fuse into rosy blendings. How exquisite, how astounding was each effect, as every pane of the great windows caught the sinking sunbeams!
Not till the bitter nip of evening frost caught our throats and noses could we tear ourselves thence, and move on to where the glory passed, and, still lovely, but calm now and placid, the Dream Palace stood against the November sky.
The Terrace Front.
Crusty old Camden, who accused the builder of ostentation, and desire to show his great wealth! What mere parade of vainglory could have inspired such a creation in architecture? what poor pride of place, and consciousness even of kingly kinship, could have produced a Wollaton?
Nought, truly, but a pure love of the beautiful in art, a knowledge, a true taste, could set stone by stone to such attuning, during the eight years that John Thorpe of Padua and Francis Willughby worked together.
It is possible that the owner—whose mother was Lady Anne Grey, aunt to the nine-days' Queen of England, and who, through that and other links, was kin to the Tudors—may have deemed his ancient house of Wollaton scarcely fitted for the entertainment of his illustrious connexions: though, indeed, 'twas that house Queen Bess visited, July 21, 1575.
But no doubt Francis Willughby considered the accumulations of his minority well expended in erecting a home better suited to his estate, and to that of the kindly and distinguished relatives with whom was spent the childhood of the orphaned trio: Thomas, Francis himself, and Margaret, afterwards Lady Arundell of Wardour.
If he felt this, who, gazing, shall blame? That he spent, according to his descendant, Cassandra Willoughby, Duchess of Chandos, "fourscore thousand pounds"— not reckoning value of stone, which was brought from Ancaster on the backs of mules and horses, and paid for in returned coal instead of cash—seems, considering what value such a sum represented in Elizabeth's time, a truly enormous expenditure for a subject.
But the result! One cannot help agreeing with Queen Adelaide, who exclaimed, on seeing the house, that "it ought to be put under a glass case!"
One cannot look at it awry: each side is perfect, each aspect novel; whether witnessing such an effect as the one above described, or standing where the Scotch firs on Arbour Hill "rear their ardent heights" (so poetised by Mr. J. Russell Lowell), overlooking the swelling and dipping and tree-studded park to yonder towers upraised above their cedar terrace, and parterre of many-coloured flowers; whether wandering on sunny lawns, beneath the fine details of architecture, noting the near effect of russet and golden staining on the lower bases, where ore-ooze adds richness to the old stones, on which a crawling spray of ivy is allowed to rise so far, but no farther; or, yet again, roaming beyond the lake, to peer down a bough-hedged vista, and mark, over its shining, lily-strewn waters, the house standing in majestic command.
In the springtime, whose tender greenery refines refinement; in early summer, when rhododendrons by the lake spread their rosy wreathing over carpets of hyacinthine blue in the autumn whose tints are nigh as splendid as the midsummer flowerage; and in snow-time, when the glittering casements, in stony framing that is almost golden-hued by contrast of the surrounding whiteness, make of the new house of Wollaton, on its hill, a coronal of diamond dazzlement set in filigree ore, crowning the silver head of an Arctic sovereign; aye, in each season, in every condition, this triumph of architectural beauty finds a lovelier and titter surrounding—an atmosphere of worshipful enhancement, a sympathy of harmonious enveloping.
Wollaton Hall—to descend to prosaic detail, if prose can apply to such a poem in stone—was built in the days of Elizabeth; John Thorpe (of Padua) with his "architector" John Smithson (whose mural monument is in Wollaton Church) having begun their labours in 1580. No doubt Sir Francis himself had had much say in the matter of planning, for his aforenamed descendant, Cassandra, gives him credit for being "a man of much learning."
Cassandra (daughter of Francis Willoughby, the famous natural philosopher, friend and patron of Ray), above quoted, has left most interesting manuscript excerpts from family papers in the study of her brother, Thomas (the first Lord Middleton), dated 1702. The manuscript in book form was recently recovered from descendants of the Chandos family in Ireland. Cassandra's second manuscript, promised, but, alas! not forthcoming, might have touched on subjects of which the accounts are wholly lost: as a burst water-pipe, flooding the floor of the Muniment-room, when many papers were soaked and spoiled by hasty drying, and doubtless caused a great loss to the family archives. It might have told us something about the visit of Anne of Denmark, and her son, Prince Charles; and about Oliver Cromwell, in after years so fatal a foe to that Prince, being found the night after Naseby (or rather the second night—considering the distance) by the old family nurse, who crept after him up-stairs at Wollaton, kneeling by his bedside, in full armour, engaged in prayer; and about her (Cassandra's) own father, and her young brothers, who with herself doubtless imbibed knowledge at Middleton and Wollaton, watching the experiments of Ray and his patron on the sap of trees, and learning natural history in pleasantest ways.
They were a wonderful race, these Willoughbys of Wollaton; and he who would write their history has large stores to draw from, as that Muniment-room is a bewilderment to beholders.