Изображения страниц



HAVING undertaken to edit these essays, in which Sir Roger de Coverley plays a leading part, I naturally formed a wish to visit the old knight's pleasant seat in Worcestershire, where the Spectator passed the month of July with him in rural retirement more than two hundred years ago. I was the more desirous of doing so, because my researches into the history of the Spectator Club had led me to believe, that on the dissolution of the club many of the papers relating to it had been sent for safe-keeping to Captain Sentry, Sir Roger's heir, and that some of them at least were still preserved in the muniment room at Coverley Hall. Accordingly I wrote to inquire of the present owner of the Hall, and received from him a very courteous letter in reply. He informed me that he had in his possession a considerable number of papers concerning the club, that he had never himself examined them with attention, but that I should be free to do so and to publish anything of interest I might find in them, if I would pay him a visit and examine the documents on the spot, as he valued them too highly to trust them to the hazards of the post. He only stipulated, that I should not make his name public, nor drop any hint as to the part of Worcestershire in which Coverley is situated; for he leads, as he told me, a very retired life on his ancestral estate, and he fears that, were the Hall better known, the fame



of Sir Roger might attract many visitors, whom he could not admit without inconvenience, nor refuse admittance without discourtesy.1 Needless to say I gladly accepted his kind invitation and willingly gave the required pledge of secrecy. My wish was to visit the old Hall in summer, that I might see it as the Spectator himself saw it in those bright July days of 1711; but legal business (for like a well-known member of the Spectator Club I am a Templar) detained me in town last year all through the summer, and it was not until late in the autumn that I was able to go down into Worcestershire. Yet the delay had its compensation, for the autumn was one of unusual beauty. Never, perhaps, within the memory of men now living did summer fade so slowly and, as it were, so reluctantly through such exquisite gradations of mellow sunshine and glorious colouring into the greyness and sadness of winter. In that gorgeous sunset of the year I journeyed down to Worcestershire. After being long immured in the smoke and grime of London, it was a pure joy to me to drink in the green landscape, with its fields and meadows, its winding rivers fringed by pale willows, its old manors embosomed in trees, its peaceful villages nestling round the

1 Well-informed readers need hardly be reminded that the name of Coverley village and Hall was changed in the later years of the eighteenth century, and no longer appears on modern maps. An old map of Arrowsmith's is, I believe, the last which marks the place under the name of Cuverly (sic). The circumstances under which the change of name took place were remarkable and peculiar. They are fully related in the Annual Register, and more concisely in an excellent article in The Dictionary of National Biography, to which, for obvious reasons, I am precluded from referring more particularly. Some trifling errors of detail crept into the original article, but these, I am glad to observe, have been corrected in the second edition of the Dictionary.

churches with their grey time-worn spires or ivied towers, as they floated silently, like a dream of heaven, past the window at which I sat. Over all rested, like a benediction, the blue sky flecked with white clouds of a lovely October day.

But mindful of my promise I will say no more of my journey, and will give no clue that could lead to the identification of the Hall. I will only say, that I have visited all Sir Roger's old haunts and seen them with my own eyes. I have walked at sunset in the long avenue of elms and heard the rooks cawing overhead, and at a later hour I have watched from the same spot the moon rising behind the ivy-clad ruins of the abbey and silvering the whole scene with her gentle beams. I have sat in Sir Roger's pew in the old village church-a square highbacked pew of black oak just under the pulpit—and have inspected the monuments of the Coverley family, which break the severe simplicity of the walls, from the uncouth effigy of the Crusader with his upturned face, clasped sword, and crossed legs, down to the marble tablets of generals and admirals, of deans and prebends, in the reigns of Charles II. and James II. I have paced the long gallery where the family portraits hang. They hang just as the Spectator describes them, but naturally not a few have been added since his time; for though the name of Coverley became extinct with Sir Roger, the family has continued unbroken to this day, and, without rising to posts of the highest distinction, has served its king and country in peace and war, on sea and land, with credit to itself and advantage to the public. Even among the portraits which the Spectator must have seen, I noted not a few worthy of remark, which he passed over in silence. For instance, there is a portrait by Vandyke of a dark handsome man in a shining cuirass and great plumed

hat, which throws half his face into deep shadow. He bore the king's commission and fell at the battle of Naseby. Another of the family in the same century rose to be Admiral of the White under the sailor king, James the Second. There is a portrait of him in his admiral's dress by Kneller. The face is rubicund, bronzed and weatherbeaten; his right hand rests on the hilt of his sword, the left sleeve is empty and pinned to his breast, which is covered with orders. The tradition at Coverley is, that he lost his arm at the battle of La Hogue, his ship being one of those that pressed hardest on the French flagship, the Royal Sun, when that gallant ship, alone and surrounded by enemies, fell sullenly back, the fleur-de-lys still flaunting proudly at the masthead, all her portholes sputtering fire, and all her scuppers spouting blood, till she was lost to her pursuers in the darkness. Next to the portrait of the admiral hangs the picture of a grave divine in cassock and flowing wig, seated in a pensive attitude with a great book open before him, and the spire of Coverley church appearing over very green trees and under a very blue sky in the background. He was a younger son, and held the family living of Coverley for many years. They say he was a learned man, a Fellow of his college at one of the Universities (I forget which), and very deep in Hebrew and the mathematics. In later life he devoted much of his ample leisure-for the parish duties of Coverley in those days were not very onerous-to calculating the number of the Beast in Revelations; he even meditated a treatise on the subject, which no doubt would have done him great honour, had he lived to publish it, but unfortunately he died before he had completed his calculations. Among these grave and gallant men there are portraits of fair ladies. I noticed one in particular of a blooming maid-of-honour, who danced with Charles the Second at the first ball which

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »