A delightful excursion of ten or a dozen miles carried our party, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Flower, Mr. and Mrs. Willett, with A---- and myself, to Compton Wynyate, a most interesting old mansion, belonging to the Marquis of Northampton, who, with his daughter-in-law, Lady William Compton, welcomed us and showed us all the wonders of the place. It was a fine morning, but hot enough for one of our American July days. The drive was through English rural scenery; that is to say, it was lovely. The old house is a great curiosity. It was built in the reign of Henry the Eighth, and has passed through many vicissitudes. The place, as well as the edifice, is a study for the antiquarian. Remains of the old moat which surrounded it are still distinguishable. The twisted and variously figured chimneys are of singular variety and exceptional forms. Compton Wynyate is thought to get its name from the vineyards formerly under cultivation on the hillsides, which show the signs of having been laid out in terraces. The great hall, with its gallery, and its hangings, and the long table made from the trunk of a single tree, carries one back into the past centuries. There are strange nooks and corners and passages in the old building, and one place, a queer little "cubby-hole," has the appearance of having been a Roman Catholic chapel. I asked the master of the house, who pointed out the curiosities of the place most courteously, about the ghosts who of course were tenants in common with the living proprietors. I was surprised when he told me there were none. It was incredible, for here was every accommodation for a spiritual visitant. I should have expected at least one haunted chamber, to say nothing of blood-stains that could never be got rid of; but there were no legends of the supernatural or the terrible.
Erect, half buried, slant or prone,
This was to be a memorable date in the record of the year, one long to be remembered in the political history of Great Britain. For on this day, the 7th of June, Mr. Gladstone was to make his great speech on the Irish question, and the division of the House on the Government of Ireland Bill was to take place. The whole country, to the corners of its remotest colony, was looking forward to the results of this evening's meeting of Parliament. The kindness of the Speaker had furnished me with a ticket, entitling me to a place among the "distinguished guests," which I presented without modestly questioning my right to the title.
Then to Grosvenor House to see the pictures. I best remember Gainsborough's beautiful Blue Boy, commonly so called, from the color of his dress, and Sir Joshua's Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, which everybody knows in engravings. We lunched in clerical company that day, at the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol's, with the Archbishop of York, the Reverend Mr. Haweis, and others as guests. I told A---- that she was not sufficiently impressed with her position at the side of an archbishop; she was not crumbling bread in her nervous excitement. The company did not seem to remember Sydney Smith's remark to the young lady next him at a dinner-party: "My dear, I see you are nervous, by your crumbling your bread as you do. I always crumble bread when I sit by a bishop, and when I sit by an archbishop I crumble bread with both hands." That evening I had the pleasure of dining with the distinguished Mr. Bryce, whose acquaintance I made in our own country, through my son, who has introduced me to many agreeable persons of his own generation, with whose companionship I am glad to mend the broken and merely fragmentary circle of old friendships.
No one was so much surprised as myself at my undertaking this visit. Mr. Gladstone, a strong man for his years, is reported as saying that he is too old to travel, at least to cross the ocean, and he is younger than I am,--just four months, to a day, younger. It is true that Sir Henry Holland came to this country, and travelled freely about the world, after he was eighty years old; but his pitcher went to the well once too often, and met the usual doom of fragile articles. When my friends asked me why I did not go to Europe, I reminded them of the fate of Thomas Parr. He was only twice my age, and was getting on finely towards his two hundredth year, when the Earl of Arundel carried him up to London, and, being feasted and made a lion of, he found there a premature and early grave at the age of only one hundred and fifty-two years. He lies in Westminster Abbey, it is true, but he would probably have preferred the upper side of his own hearth-stone to the under side of the slab which covers him.
On Friday, the 18th, I went to a breakfast at the Combination Room, at which about fifty gentlemen were present, Dr. Sandys taking the chair. After the more serious business of the morning's repast was over, Dr. Macalister, at the call of the chairman, arose, and proposed my welfare in a very complimentary way. I of course had to respond, and I did so in the words which came of their own accord to my lips. After my unpremeditated answer, which was kindly received, a young gentleman of the university, Mr. Heitland, read a short poem, of which the following is the title:--
All the usual provisions for comfort made by seagoing experts we had attended to. Impermeable rugs and fleecy shawls, head-gear to defy the rudest northeasters, sea-chairs of ample dimensions, which we took care to place in as sheltered situations as we could find,--all these were a matter of course. Everybody stays on deck as much as possible, and lies wrapped up and spread out at full length on his or her sea-chair, so that the deck looks as if it had a row of mummies on exhibition. Nothing is more comfortable, nothing, I should say, more indispensable, than a hot-water bag,--or rather, two hot-water bags; for they will burst sometimes, as I found out, and a passenger who has become intimate with one of these warm bosom friends feels its loss almost as if it were human.
I did not escape it, and I am glad to tell my story about it, because it excuses some of my involuntary social shortcomings, and enables me to thank collectively all those kind members of the profession who trained all the artillery of the pharmacopoeia upon my troublesome enemy, from bicarbonate of soda and Vichy water to arsenic and dynamite. One costly contrivance, sent me by the Reverend Mr. Haweis, whom I have never duly thanked for it, looked more like an angelic trump for me to blow in a better world than what I believe it is, an inhaling tube intended to prolong my mortal respiration. The best thing in my experience was recommended to me by an old friend in London. It was Himrod's asthma cure, one of the many powders, the smoke of which when burning is inhaled. It is made in Providence, Rhode Island, and I had to go to London to find it. It never failed to give at least temporary relief, but nothing enabled me to sleep in my state-room, though I had it all to myself, the upper berth being removed. After the first night and part of the second, I never lay down at all while at sea. The captain allowed me to have a candle and sit up in the saloon, where I worried through the night as I best might. How could I be in a fit condition to accept the attention of my friends in Liverpool, after sitting up every night for more than a week; and how could I be in a mood for the catechizing of interviewers, without having once lain down during the whole return passage? I hope the reader will see why I mention these facts. They explain and excuse many things; they have been alluded to, sometimes with exaggeration, in the newspapers, and I could not tell my story fairly without mentioning them. I got along well enough as soon as I landed, and have had no return of the trouble since I have been back in my own home. I will not advertise an assortment of asthma remedies for sale, but I assure my kind friends I have had no use for any one of them since I have walked the Boston pavements, drank, not the Cochituate, but the Belmont spring water, and breathed the lusty air of my native northeasters.
On our way back from Stonehenge we stopped and took a cup of tea with a friend of our host, Mr. Nightingale. His house, a bachelor establishment, was very attractive to us by the beauty within and around it. His collection of "china," as Pope and old-fashioned people call all sorts of earthenware, excited the enthusiasm of our host, whose admiration of some rare pieces in the collection was so great that it would have run into envy in a less generous nature.