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It was on such a day as I have seen in Italy in the month of December, but which, in our chill climate, seemed so unseasonably, so ominously beautiful, that it was like the hectic loveliness brightening the eyes and flushing the cheek of consumption, -that I found myself in the domains of Althorpe. Autumn, dying in the lap of Winter, looked out with one bright parting smile ;-the soft air breathed of Summer; the withered leaves, heaped on the path, told a different tale. The slant, pale sun shone out with all heaven to himself; not a cloud was there, not a breeze to stir the leafless woods—those venerable woods, which Evelyn loved and commemorated :* the fine majestic old oaks, scattered over the park, tossed their huge bare arms against the blue sky; a thin hoar frost, dissolving as the sun rose higher, left the lawns and hills sparkling and glancing in its ray; now and then a hare raced across the open glade
“ And with ber feet she from the plashy earth
Raises a mist, which glittering in the san,
Nothing disturbed the serene stillness except a pheasant whirring from a neighbouring thicket, or at intervals the belling of the deer—a sound so peculiar, and so fitted to the scene, that I sympathized in the taste of one of the noble progenitors of the Spencers, who had built a huntinglodge in a sequestered spot, that he might hear "the harte bell."
* I was mach struck (with the inscription on a stone tablet, in a fipe old wood near the house: “This wood was planted by Sir William Spencer, Knighte of the Bathe, in the year of our Lord, 1624:"-on the other side, “ Up and bee doing, and God will prosper.” It is mentioned in Evelyn's “Sylva.”
This was a day, an hour, a scene, with all its associations, its quietness and beauty, "felt in the blood, and felt along the heart.” All worldly cares and pains were laid asleep; while memory, fancy, and feeling waked. Althorpe does not frown upon us in the gloom of remote antiquity; it has not the warlike glories of some of the baronial residences of our old nobility; it is not built like a watch-tower on a hill, to lord it over feudal vassals; it is not bristled with battlements and turrets. It stands in a valley, with the gradual hills undulating round it, clothed with rich woods. It has altogether a look of compactness and comfort, without pretension, which, with the pastoral beauty of the landscape, and low situation, recall the ancient vocation of the family, whose grandeur was first founded, like that of the patriarchs of old, on the multitude of their flocks and herds.* It was in the reign of Henry the Eighth that Althorpe became the principal seat of the Spencers, and no place of the same date can boast so many delightful, romantic, and historical associations.
* See the accounts of Sir John Spencer, in Collios's Peerage, and prefixed to Dibdin's “ Ædes Althorpiana.”