Page images

Addison purchased the estate of Bilton for 10,0001., and the money was principally advanced by his brother Gulston Addison, governor of Fort St. George, at Madras. Thither he conveyed his paintings, his library, and his collection of medals, which, as connected with his Dialogues on Medals, was very valuable. Here it may be supposed that, during the five years previous to his marriage, he passed much of his leisure time. It was a beautiful retirement, well calculated to dispose to thought, and worthy of the author of the Spectator. If we are to believe tradition, that he planted most of the trees now standing around it, he must have taken great pleasure in its embellishment. On his death he left it to his only child, Charlotte Addison, who could not have been much more than two years old. Here she spent her long life, from the death of her mother, the countess, dying in 1797, at about eighty years of age. Miss Addison, for she was never married, is said to have been of weak intellect, a fact by many traced to the want of real and spiritual union between her parents, a supposition which the researches of our own times into the nature of man, tend greatly to confirm. With the usual effect of aristocratic prejudice on a feeble mind, she is said to have been especially proud of her mother, but to have rarely mentioned her father. Being left to the care and education of her mother, this does not very strongly corroborate the case which Miss Aikin labours to establish. It does not tell very eloquently for that true affection which she tells us the countess bore towards Addison, and which she endeavours to prove by proving Addison's affection for her, evidenced by his making her his sole executris, and guardian of his child. By the fruits we must judge of the woman as well as the tree, and the fruit of Lady Warwick’s education of her child was, by all accounts, this,—that she left her ashamed of her father the commoner, though an immortal man, and proud of her mother, a lady—and nothing more. There are many stories of the eccentricities and increasing fatuity of poor Miss Addison floating in the village and neighbourhood of Bilton, which may as well die out with time. The disposal of her property marks the tendency of her feelings. Her grandfather, Dr. Lancelot Addison, was a native of Cumberland. There, at the time of Miss Addison making her will, still remained many near and poor relations, whom she entirely passed over, as she had done in her life-time, and bequeathed Bilton to the Honourable John Bridgman Simpson, brother to Lord Bridgman, whose representative is now Earl of Bradford. This gentleman she chose to consider her nearest relation, because her mother's relation, though very near he could not be. Her mother, the countess, was the daughter of Sir Thomas Middleton, of Chirk castle, Denbighshire, by a daughter of Sir Orlando Bridgman; so that this Mr. Bridgman Simpson, a relative of her grandmother, could be no very near relative of her own, while she must have had first cousins of the paternal line in plenty. Those relatives of her own name, and who would have handed down the property, bound up with the name of Addison, as a monument of their family fame, disputed her will, but ineffectually. She is buried there in the chancel of the church, but the gratitude of that aristocratic person on whom, to the prejudice of her own name and blood, she bestowed her whole estate, has never to this hour proved warm enough to furnish a single stone, or a single line, to mark where she lies. As if the name of Addison were something noxious or disgraceful, and should be carefully kept out of all mention which might decide its connexion with Bilton,

“ The sole daughter of his house and heart"

lies buried in that oblivious silence which cannot but be confessed to be a rich piece of poetical justice, though of very unpoetical ingratitude. Soon after Miss Addison's death, the library was removed to London, and in May 1799, was sold by auction for 4561. 28. 9d., and Addison's collection of medals for 921. 28. 2d. The poet's screen, drinking cup, teapot, etc. are now in the possession of William Ferdinand Wratislaw, Esq. of Rugby, the descendant of one of the most ancient families in Europe,—no other than the royal family of Bohemia, of which our “good Queen Ann,” the wife of Richard II. was a princess; and of which, that is of Mr. Wratislaw, of Rugby, the present head of the house, the young Count Adam Wratislaw, allied to Queen Victoria by his aunt the Princess of Leiningen, is a near relative. They could not be in better hands.

Since Miss Addison's death, the house at Bilton has been successively occupied by Mrs. Brookes and Miss Moore ; by Mr. Apperley, the well-known Nimrod of sporting literature; by Sir Charles Palmer, Bart. ; by the Vernon family; by the Misses Boddington; and lastly, by Mr. Simpson himself. Mr. Simpson has considerably improved the house, rebuilding the back part facing the garden; but, on the other hand, he cut down a considerable part of a fine avenue of limes, stretching along one side of the garden down to a wood below, called Addison's Walk, This avenue is said to have been planted by Addison, and terminated in a clump of evergreens, where was an alcove called Addison's Seat. It was not till about half this avenue was felled, that Mr. Simpson heard that it was Addison's Walk, and caused the destruction to stop. He is now a very old man, and has not resided at Bilton since the death of his wife. The house is, however, furnished; and after reading Miss Aikin's statement, that “a small number of pictures collected by Addison, still, it is believed, remain in the house, which are mostly portraits of his cotemporaries, and intrinsically of small value,” how great was my delight and surprise to find what and how many these paintings were! But let us make a more regular approach to this gem of an old house, to the actual country seat of our “ dear short-face" the Spectator,

Issuing from Rugby, Bilton salutes you from the hill on the opposite side of the valley which you have to cross in order to reach it. A lofty mass of trees, on a fine airy elevation; a small grey church with finely tapering spire in front of them, shew you where Bilton lies; but house or village you do not discern till you are close upon them. It was not till I had approached within a few hundred yards of Addison's house, or the hall, as it is called, that I saw the cottages of the village stretching away to my right hand; and a carriage road diverging to my left towards the church, brought me within view of the house; there it stood in the midst of the fine old trees. A villager informed me that no one lived there but the gardener, nor had done for

The autumn had dyed all the trees with its rich and yet melancholy hues; they strewed the ground in abundance, and there was a feeling of solitude and desertion about the place which was by no means out of keeping, when I reflected that I was approaching the house of Addison, so long quitted by himself. A fine old avenue of lime-trees, winding with the carriage drive, brought me to the front of the house. It is a true Elizabethan mansion, not too large for a poet, yet large enough for any country gentleman who is not overdone with his establishment. The front of the main portion is lofty, handsome, and in excellent repair. A projecting tower runs up from the porch to the roof. Over the door is cut, in freestone, some mathematical or masonic sign-a circle enclosing two triangles; and near the top is the date of 1623. On the right hand, a wing of lower buildings runs forward from the main erection, forming, as it were, one side of a court. These buildings turn their gables towards you, and are covered with ivy. On the left hand, but standing back in a stable-yard, are the out-buildings, seeming, however, to balance the whole fabric, and giving it an air of considerable extent. All round, adjoining the buildings and along the avenue, grow evergreens in tall and luxuriant masses.


On the other side of the house lies the old garden, retaining all the characters of a past age. The centre consists of a fine lawn; the upper part of which, near the house, has recently been laid out in fancy flower beds, in the form of a star, and corner beds to make up the square. The rest appears as it might be when Addison left it. On the right a square-cut holly hedge divides it from the fields, which are scattered with lofty trees, amongst which are foreign oaks, said to be raised from acorns brought home by the poet. To the left, the garden is bounded by a still more massy square-clipped hedge of yew, opening half-way down into a large kitchen garden, being at the same time at the upper end an old Dutch flower garden. At the far side of this garden, opposite to the entrance through the yew hedge, is an alcove, and down that side extends the lime avenue, called Addison's Walk. At the bottom of this garden are fishponds, and in the field below an oak wood. Thus amidst lofty trees, some of them strong, old and crooked, presenting a scene worthy of making part of a picture of Claude Lorraine, you look down over the garden to rich fields descending into the country below. At the bottom right-hand corner is an alcove, shut in by a group of evergreen shrubs and pine-trees from the house, but overlooking the fields and woodlands, called Addison's Seat; and a very pleasant seat it is, full of quiet retirement. .

Such is the exterior of Bilton. The interior of the main part of the house consists principally of two large rooms, a dining and drawing room. These extend quite through, are lighted at each end, and the projection in front forms a sort of little cabinet in each room. These two fine large rooms are hung round with the paintings placed here by Addison : whether they are few and of no intrinsic value will soon be seen.

In the dining room are, first, full-lengths of James I, by Mark Garrard; Lord Crofts, Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, by Balthazar Gerbier; the Duke of Hamilton, Henry Rich, Earl of Warwick, Prince Rupert, and Prince Maurice, all by Vandyck; Sir Thomas Middleton, the Countess of Warwick's father, by Sir Peter Lely; and in the small division in front of the room, Chief Justice the Earl of Nottingham, by Michael Dahl; Mr. Secretary Craggs, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, a man of fair complexion, and handsome, amiable countenance, in a light bright blue dress; Sir John Vanburgh, by Verelst; and Lord Halifax, by Kneller. These are chiefly three-quarter figures.

On the staircase is one of the four well-known equestrian Charles the Firsts, by Vandyck, the horse by Stone, one of which is at Hampton Court, and another at Warwick Castle. Opposite to it is a full-length figure of Anne of Austria, Queen of France, by Mignard.

In the drawing room, a full-length figure of a lady, labelled as Lady Isabel Thynne, daughter of the Earl of Holland, has a bit of paper stuck behind it by some artist, stating that at Knowle there is a precisely similar picture marked as Lady Frances Grenfield, daughter of the Earl of Middleton, and fifth Countess of Dorset; as well as a copy of it, likewise, at Knowle. Next to this is a singular picture, which might be one of Lely's, but bears no name of the artist. There is an exact fac-simile of it at Penghurst. It contains two half-length figures of Lady Lucy Percy, Countess of Carlisle, and Lady Dorothy Percy, Countess

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »