Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, chiefly relative to Picturesque Beauty, made in the summer of the year 1770
To the Rev. William Mason.
The very favourable manner, in which you spoke of some observations I shewed you in MS. several years ago, On the lakes, and mountains of the northern parts of this island, induced many of my friends, at different times, to desire the publication of them. But as they are illustrated by a great variety of plans, and drawings, the hazard and expence had rather a formidable appearance.
Your advice against a subscription, which some persons of rank and eminence did me the honour to propose, I have considered; and am convinced, on weighing the matter, that without ascertaining a little better the difficulties of printing so complicated a work, I should find myself embarrassed by an engagement with the public; and should infallibly injure either my subscribers on one hand; or myself on the other.
I have followed your advice, you see, also in another point; and have made an essay in a smaller work of the same kind; which may enable me the better to ascertain the expences of a larger, if I should, at any time hereafter, be inclined to print it.
I have chosen the following little piece for that purpose; which was the first of the kind I ever amused myself with; and as it is very unimportant in itself, you will excuse my endeavouring to give it some little credit by the following anecdote.
In the same year, in which this little journey was made, your late valuable friend Mr. Gray made it likewise; and hearing that I had put on paper a few remarks on the scenes, which he had so lately visited, he desired a sight of them. They were then only in a rude state; but the handsome things he said of them to a friend of his, who obligingly repeated them to me, gave them, I own, some little degree of credit in my own opinion; and make me somewhat less apprehensive in risking them before the public.
If this little work afforded any amusement to Mr. Gray, it was the amusement of a very late period of his life. He saw it in London, about the beginning of June 1771; and he died, you know, at the end of the July following.
Had he lived, it is possible, he might have been induced to have assisted me with a few of his own remarks on scenes, which he had so accurately examined. The slightest touches of such a master would have had their effect. No man was a greater admirer of nature, than Mr. Gray; nor admired it with better taste.
The descriptive part however of this little work, I can only offer to the public, as a hasty sketch. To criticize the face of a country correctly, you should see it oftener than once; and in various seasons. Different circumstances make such changes in the same landscape, as give it wholly a new aspect. But these scenes are marked just as they struck the eye at first. I had not an opportunity to repeat the view.
For the drawings, I must apologize in the same manner. They were hastily sketched, and under many disadvantages; and pretend only to give some idea of the general effect of a scene: but, in no degree to mark the several picturesque, and ornamental particulars, of which it is composed.
They were etched by a young man, a relation of mine, who has not yet had experience enough to execute the several details, with that masterly freedom, which I could wish: but his endeavours, I hope, have been tolerably successful in giving, what is more essential, the effect of the whole.
Such as the work is, I print it by your advice; and it is chiefly in deference to your opinion; and to that of others of my friends, that my expectation of any favour from the public is derived. I am, dear Sir, with great regard, and esteem,
Your most obedient,
Observations on the River Wye, &c.
We travel for various purposes; to explore the culture of soils; to view the curiosities of art; to survey the beauties of nature; to search for her productions; and to learn the manners of men; their different polities, and modes of life.
The following little work proposes a new object of pursuit; that of not barely examining the face of a country; but of examining it by the rules of picturesque beauty: that of not merely describing; but of adapting the description of natural scenery to the principles of artificial landscape; and of opening the sources of those pleasures, which are derived from the comparison.
Observations of this kind, through the vehicle of description, have the better chance of being founded in truth; as they are not the offspring of theory; but are taken warm from the scenes of nature, as they arise.
Crossing Hounslow-heath, from Kingston, in Surry, we struck into the Reading-road; and turned a little aside, to see the approach to Caversham-house, which winds about a mile, along a valley, through the park. Nothing can be easier than the sweep; nor better united than the ground; nor more ornamental than several of the dumps: but many of the single trees, which are beeches, are heavy. An ordinary tree may group; but a tree should be handsome, if it stands alone.
From Lord Cadogan’s we took the Wallingford-road to Oxford. It affords some variety, running along the declivity of a range of hills; and overlooking a valley. But there is nothing very interesting in the scene. The Thames intervenes; but it seldom appears. The woods are frequent; but they are formal copses: and white spots, bursting every where from a chalky soil, disturb the eye.
From Wallingford to Oxford, the road scarce affords one good view, except at Shillingford; where the bridge, the river, and its woody banks exhibit some scenery.
From Oxford we proposed to take the nearest road to Ross. As far as Witney the country is flat. About the eleventh stone the high grounds command a noble semicircular distance on the left; and near Burford there are views of the same kind, on the right; but not so extensive. None of these landscapes however are perfect, as they want the accompaniments of foregrounds.
At Mr. Lenthal's, in Burford, there is a capital picture of the family of the Mores, by Holbein, which is worth visiting. It contains eleven figures—Sir Thomas More, and his father; two young ladies, and other branches of the family. The heads are as expressive, as the composition is formal. The judge is marked with the character of a dry, facetious, sensible old man. The chancellor is handed down to us in history, both as a chearful philosopher; and as a severe inquisitor. His countenance here has much of that eagerness, and stem attention, which remind us of the latter. The subject of this piece seems to be a dispute between the two young ladies; and alludes probably to some well-known family story.
Indeed every family-picture should be founded on some little story, or domestic incident, which, in a degree, should engage the attention of all the figures. It would be invidious perhaps to tax Van-dyke on this head: but if the truth might be spoken, I could mention some of his family-pictures, which, if the sweetness of his colouring, and the elegant simplicity of his airs, and attitudes, did not make us forget all faults, would appear only like so many distinct portraits, stuck together on the same canvas. It would be equally invidious to omit mentioning a modem master, now at the head of his profession, whose great fertility of invention in employing the figures of his family-pictures, is not among the least of his many excellencies.
The country from Burford is high, and downy. A valley, on the right, kept pace with us; through which flows the Windrush; not indeed an object of sight; but easily traced along the meadows by pollard-willows, and a more luxuriant vegetation.
At Barrington you have a pleasing view, seen through an opening on the foreground.
About North-leach the road grows very disagreeable. Nothing appears, but downs on each side; and these often divided by stone walls, the most offensive separation of property.
From Frogmill the road still continues along the same heights. About the eleventh stone from Glocester a noble distance opens, terminated by the Malvern-hills.
At length, the heights break down, and let us into the plains below. The winding precipice, through which the road descends, is called, I believe, Leckhampton-hills. The descent is long, and abrupt; and, at every turn, presents some rough knoll, or promontory; which forms an excellent foreground; or opens a beautiful distance.
Having descended these heights, the road continued so level to Glocester, that we scarce saw the town, till we entered it.
The cathedral is an elegant piece of Gothic without but within, it is heavy Saxon. A Grecian screen is injudiciously introduced, to separate the choir. The cloisters are light, and airy.
As we leave the gates of Glocester, the view is pleasing. A long stretch of meadow, filled with cattle, spreads into a foreground. Beyond, is a screen of wood, terminated by distant mountains; among which Malvern-hills make a respectable appearance. The road to Ross, leads through a landscape, woody, rough, hilly, and agreeable.
Ross stand high, and commands many distant views; but that from the churchyard is the most admired; and is indeed very amusing. It consists of an easy sweep of the Wye; and of an extensive country beyond it. But it is not picturesque. It is marked by no characteristic objects: it is broken into too many parts; and it is seen from too high a point. The spire of the church, which is the man of Ross’s heaven-directed spire, tapers beautifully. The inn, which was the house he lived in, is known by the name of the man of Ross's house.
At Ross, we planned our voyage down the Wye to Monmouth; providing a covered-boat, navigated by three men. Less strength would have carried us down; but the labour is in rowing back.
The Wye takes its rise near the summit of Plinlimmon; and dividing the counties of Radnor, and Brecknoc, passes through Herefordshire. From thence becoming a second boundary between Monmouth, and Glocestershire, it falls into the Severn, a little below Chepstow. To this place from Ross, which is a course of near 40 miles, it flows in a gentle, uninterrupted stream; and adorns, through its various reaches, a succession of the most picturesque scenes.
The beauty of these scenes arises chiefly from two circumstances—the lofty banks of the river, and its mazy course; both which are accurately observed by the poet, when he describes the Wye, as ecchoing through its winding bounds. It could not well eccho, unless its banks were lofty.
From these two circumstances the views it exhibits, are of the most elegant kind of perspective; free from the formality of lines.
Every view on a river, thus circumstanced, is composed of four grand parts; the area, which is the river itself; the two side-screens, which are the opposite banks, and mark the perspective; and the front-screen, which points out the winding of the river.
If the Wye ran, like a Dutch canal, between parallel banks, there could be no front-screen: the two side-screens, in that situation, would lengthen to a point.
If a road were under the circumstance of a river winding like the Wye, the effect would be the same. But this is rarely the case. The road pursues the irregularity of the country. It climbs the hill; and sinks into the valley: and this irregularity gives the views it exhibits, a different character.
But the views on the Wye, though composed only of these simple parts, are yet infinitely varied.
They are varied, first, by the contrast of the screens. Sometimes one of the side-screens is elevated; sometimes the other; and sometimes the front. Or both the side-screens maybe lofty; and the front either high, or low.
Again, they are varied by the folding of the side-screens over each other; and hiding more or less of the front. When none of the front is discovered, the folding-side either winds round, like an amphitheatre; or it becomes a long reach of perspective.
These simple variations admit still farther variety from becoming complex. One of the sides may be compounded of various parts; while the other remains simple: or both may be compounded; and the front simple: or the front alone may be compounded.
Besides these sources of variety, there are other circumstances, which, under the name of ornaments, still farther increase them. Plain banks will admit all the variations we have yet mentioned: but when this plainness is adorned, a thousand other varieties arise.
The ornaments of the Wye may be ranged under four heads—ground—wood—rocks —and buildings.
The ground, of which the banks of the Wye consists, (and which hath thus far been considered only in its general effect,) affords every variety, which ground is capable of receiving; from the steepest precipice, to the flattest meadow. This variety appears in the line formed by the summits of the banks; in the swellings, and excavations of their declivities; and in the unequal surfaces of the lower grounds.
In many places also the ground is broken; which adds new sources of variety. By broken ground, we mean only such ground, as bath lost its turf, and discovers the naked soil. Often you see a gravelly earth shivering from the hills, and shelving down their sides in the form of water-falls: or perhaps you see dry, stony channels, guttering down precipices; the rough beds of temporary torrents. And sometimes so trifling a cause, as the rubbing of sheep against the sides of little banks, or hillocs, will often occasion very beautiful breaks.
The colour too of the broken soil is a great source of variety; the yellow, or the red oker; the ashy grey; the black earth; or the marley blue. And the intermixtures of these with patches of verdure, blooming heath, and other vegetable tints, still increase that variety.
Nor let the fastidious reader think, these remarks descend too much into detail. Were an extensive distance described, a forest-scene, a sea-coast view, a vast semicircular range of broken mountains, or some other grand display of nature, it would be trifling to mark these minute circumstances. But here the hills around exhibit little, except foregrounds; and it is necessary, where we have no distances, to be more exact in finishing objects at hand.
The next great ornament on the banks of the Wye, are its woods. In this country there are many works carried on by fire; and the woods being maintained for their use, are periodically cut down. As the larger trees are generally left, a kind of altemacy takes place: what is, this year, a thicket; may, the next, be an open grove. The woods themselves possess little beauty, and less grandeur; yet, as we consider them as the ornamental, not as the essential parts, of a scene, the eye must not examine them with exactness; but compound for a general effect.
One circumstance, attending this alternacy, is pleasing. Many of the furnaces, on the banks of the river, consume charcoal, which is manufactured on the spot; and the smoke, which is frequently seen issuing from the sides of the hills; and spreading its thin veil over a part of them, beautifully breaks their lines, and unites them with the sky.
The chief deficiency, in point of wood, is of large trees on the edge of the water; which, clumped here and there, would diversify the hills, as the eye passes them; and remove that heaviness, which always, in some degree, (though here as little as possible) arises from the continuity of ground. They would also give distance to the more removed parts; which, in a scene like this, would have peculiar advantage: for as we have here so little distance, we wish to make the most of what we have.—But trees immediately on the foreground cannot be suffered in these scenes; as they would obstruct the navigation of the river.
The rocks, which are continually starting through the woods, produce another ornament on the banks of the Wye.The rock, as all other objects, though more than all, receives its chief beauty from contrast. Some objects are beautiful in themselves. The eye is pleased with the tuftings of a tree: it is amused with pursuing the eddying stream; or it rests with delight on the shattered arches of a Gothic ruin. Such objects, independent of composition, are beautiful in themselves. But the rock, bleak, naked, and unadorned, seems scarcely to deserve a place among them. Tint it with mosses, and lychens of various hues, and you give it a degree of beauty. Adorn it with shrubs, and hanging herbage, and you still make it more picturesque. Connect it with wood, and water, and broken ground; and you make it in the highest degree interesting. Its colour, and its form are so accommodating, that it generally blends into one of the most beautiful appendages of landscape.
Different kinds of rocks have different degrees of beauty. Those on the Wye, which are of a greyish colour, are in general, simple, and grand; rarely formal, or fantastic. Sometimes they project in those beautiful square masses, yet broken and shattered in every line, which is the characteristic of the most majestic species of rock. Sometimes they slant obliquely from the eye in shelving diagonal strata: and sometimes they appear in large masses of smooth stone, detached from each other, and half buried in the soil. Rocks of this latter kind are the most lumpish, and the least picturesque.
The various buildings, which arise everywhere on the banks of the Wye, form the last of its ornaments; abbeys, castles, villages, spires, forges, mills, and bridges. One or other of these venerable vestiges of the past, or chearful habitations of the present times, characterize almost every scene.
These works of art are however of much greater use in artificial, than in natural landscape. In pursuing the beauties of nature, we range at large among forests, lakes, rocks, and mountains. The various scenes we meet with, furnish an inexhausted source of pleasure. And though the works of art may often give animation and contrast to these scenes; yet still they are not necessary. We can be amused without them. But when we introduce a scene on canvas—when the eye is to be confined within the frame of a picture, and can no longer range among the varieties of nature; the aids of art become more necessary; and we want the castle, or the abbey, to give consequence to the scene. And indeed the landscape-painter seldom thinks his view perfect, without characterizing it by some object of this kind.
Having thus analyzed the Wye, and considered separately its constituent parts—the steepnessof its banks—its mazy course—the ground, woods,and rocks, which are its native ornaments—and the buildings, which still farther adorn its natural beauties; we shall shadow take a view of some of those delightful scenes, which result from the combination of all the picturesque materials.
I must however premise, how ill-qualified I am to do justice to the banks of the Wye, were it only from having seen them under the circumstance of a continued rain; which began early in the day, before one third of our voyage was performed.
It is true, scenery at hand suffers less under such a circumstance, than scenery at a distance; which it totally obscures.
The picturesque eye also, in quest of beauty, finds it almost in every incident, and under every appearance of nature. Her works, and all her works, must ever, in some degree, be beautiful. Even the rain gave a gloomy grandeur to many of the scenes; and by throwing a veil of obscurity over the removed banks of the river, introduced, now and then, something like a pleasing distance. Yet still it hid greater beauties; and we could not help regretting the loss of those broad lights, and deep shadows, which would have given so much lustre to the whole; and which, ground like this, is in a peculiar manner adapted to receive.
The first part of the river from Ross, is tame. The banks are low; and there is scarce an object worth attention, except the ruins of Wilton-castle, which appear on the left, shrouded with a few trees. But the scene wants accompaniments to give it grandeur.
The bank however soon began to swell on the right, and was richly adorned with wood. We admired it much; and also the vivid images reflected from the water; which were continually disturbed, as we sailed past them; and thrown into tremulous confusion, by the dashing of our oars. A disturbed surface of water endeavouring to collect its scattered images; and restore them to order, is among the pretty appearances of nature.
We met with nothing, for some time, during our voyage, but these grand woody banks, one rising behind another; appearing, and vanishing, by turns, as we doubled their several capes. But though no particular objects marked and characterized these different scenes; yet they afforded great variety of beautiful perspective views, as we wound round them; or stretched through the reaches, which they marked out along the river.
The channel of no river can be more decisively marked, than that of the Wye. Who hath divided a water-course for the flowing of rivers? faith the Almighty in that grand apostrophe to Job on the works of creation. The idea is happily illustrated here. A nobler water-course was never divided for any river, than this. Rivers, in general, pursue a devious course along the countries, through which they flow; and form a channel for themselves by constant fluxion. But, here and there, we see a channel marked out with such precision; that it appears as if originally intended only for the bed of a river.
After sailing four Miles from Ross, we came to Goodrich-castle; where a very grand view presented itself, and we rested on our oars to examine it. A reach of the river, forming a noble bay, is spread before the eye. The bank, on the right, is steep, and covered with wood; beyond which a bold promontory shoots out, crowned with a castle, rising among the trees.
This view, which is one of the grandest on the river, I should not scruple to call correctly picturesque; which is seldom the character of a purely natural scene.
Nature is always great in design; but unequal in composition. She is an admirable colourist; and can harmonize her tints with infinite variety, and inimitable beauty: but is seldom so correct in composition, as to produce an harmonious whole. Either the foreground, or the background, is disproportioned: or some awkward line runs across the piece: or a tree is ill-placed: or a bank is formal: or something, or other is not exactly what it should be. The case is, the immensity of nature is beyond human comprehension. She works on a vast scale; and, no doubt, harmoniously, if he schemes could be comprehended. The artist, in the mean time, is confined to a span. He lays down his little rules therefore, which he calls the principles of picturesque beauty, merely to adapt such diminutive parts of nature’s surfaces to his own eye, as come within its scope Goodrich Castle
Hence therefore, the painter, who adheres strictly to the composition of nature, will rarely make a good picture. His picture must contain a whole: his archetype is but a part.
In general however he may obtain views of such parts of nature, as with the addition of a few trees; or a little alteration in the foreground, (which is a liberty, that must always be allowed) maybe adapted to his rules; though he is rarely so fortunate as to find a landscape completely satisfactory to him. In the scenery indeed at Goodrich-castle the parts are few; and the whole is a very simple exhibition. The complex scenes of nature are generally those, which the artist finds most refractory to the rules of composition.
In following the course of the Wye, which makes here one of its boldest sweeps, we were carried almost round the castle, surveying it in a variety of forms. Many of these retrospects are good; but, in general, the castle loses, on this side, both its own dignity, and the dignity of its situation.
The views from the castle, were mentioned to us, as worth examining: but the rain was now set in, and would not permit us to land.
As we leave Goodrich-castle, the banks, on the left, which had hitherto contributed les s to entertain us, began now principally to attract our attention; rearing themselves gradually into grand steeps; sometimes covered with thick woods; and sometimes forming vast concave slopes of mere verdure; unadorned, except here and there, by a stragling tree: while the flocks, which hung brow[s]ing upon them, seen from the bottom, were diminished into white specks.
The view at Rure-dean-church unfolds itself next; which is a scene of great grandeur. Here, both sides of the river are steep, and both woody; but in one the woods are intermixed with rocks. The deep umbrage of the forest of Dean occupies the front; and the spire of the church rises among the trees. The reach of the river, which exhibits this scene, is long; and, of course, the view, which is a noble piece of natural perspective, continues some time before the eye: but when the spire comes directly in front, the grandeur of the landscape is gone.
The stone-quarries, on the right, from which the bridge of Bristol was built; and, on the left, the furnaces of Bishop’s-wood,vary the scene, though of no great importance in themselves.
For some time, both sides of the river continue steep and beautiful. No particular object indeed characterizes either: but nature always characterizes her own scenes. We admire the infinite variety, with which she shapesand adorns these vast concave, and convex forms. We admire also that varied touch, with which she expresses every object
Here we see one great distinction between her painting, and that of all her copyists. Artists universally are mannerists in a certain degree. Each has his particular mode of forming particular objects. His rocks, his trees, his figures are cast in one mould: at least they possess only a varied sameness. Rubens’s figures are all full-fed: Salvator's, spare, and long-legged.
The artist also discovers as little variety in filling up the surfaces of bodies, as he does in delineating their forms. You see the same touch, or something like it, universally prevail, though applied to different objects.
In every part of painting, except execution, an artist maybe assisted by the labours of those, who have gone before him. He may improve his skill in composition, in light and shade, in perspective, in grace and elegance; that is, in all the scientific parts of his art: but with regard to execution, he must set up on his own stock. A mannerist, I fear, he must be. If he get a manner of his own, he may be an agreeable mannerist: but if he copy another's, he will certainly be a formal one. The more closely he copies nature, the better chance he has of being free from this general defect
At Lidbroke is a large wharf, where coals are shipped for Hereford, and other places. Here the scene is new, and pleasing. All has thus far been grandeur, and tranquillity. It is now life, and bustle. A road runs diagonally along the bank; and horses, and carts appear passing to the small vessels, which lie against the wharf, to receive their burdens. Close behind, a rich, woody hill hangs sloping over the wharf, and forms a grand background to the whole. The contrast of all this business, the engines used in lading, and unlading, together with the solemnity of the scene, produce all together a picturesque assemblage. The sloping hill is the front-screen; the two side-screens are low.
The front soon becomes a lofty side-screen on the left; and sweeping round the eye at Welsh-Bicknor, forms a noble amphitheatre.
At Cold-well, the front-screen first appears as a woody hill, swelling to a point. In a few minutes, it changes its shape, and the woody hill becomes a lofty side-screen, on the right; while the front unfolds itself into a majestic piece of rock-scenery.
Here we should have gone on shore, and walked to the New-Weir, which by land is only a mile; though, by water, I believe it is three times as far. This walk would have afforded us, we were informed, some very noble river-views: Nor should we have lost any thing by relinquishing the water.
The whole of this information we should probably have found true; if the weather would have permitted us to have profited by it. The latter part of it was certainly well-founded: for the water-views, in this part, were very tame. We left the rocks, and precipices behind; exchanging them for low-banks, and sedges.
But the grand scenery soon returned. We approached it however gradually. The views at White-church were an introduction to it. Here we sailed through a long reach of hills; whose sloping sides were covered with large, lumpish, detached stones; which seemed, in a course of years, to have rolled from a girdle of rocks, that surrounds the upper regions of these high grounds on both sides of the river; but particularly on the left.
From these rocks we soon approached the New-Weir; which may be called the second grand scene on the Wye.
The river is wider, than usual, in this part; and takes a sweep round a towering promontory of rock; which forms the side-screen on the left; and is the grand feature of the view. It is not a broad, fractured face of rock; but rather a woody hill, from which large projections, in two or three places, burst out; rudely hung with twisting branches, and shaggy furniture; which, like mane round the lion’s head, gives a more savage air to these wild exhibitions of nature. Near the top a pointed fragment of Solitary rock, rising above the rest, has rather a fantastic appearance: but it is not without its effect in marking the scene.
A great master in landscape has adorned an imaginary view with a circumstance exactly similar:
Stabat acute silex, prxcisis undiq; saxis,
On the right side of the river, the bank forms a woody amphitheatre, following the course of the stream round the promontory. Its lower skirts are adorned with a hamlet; in the midst of which, volumes of thick smoke, thrown up at intervals, from an iron-forge, as its fires receive fresh fuel, add double grandeur to the scene.
But what peculiarly makes this view, is a circumstance on the water. The whole river, at this place, makes a precipitate fall; of no great height indeed; but enough to merit the tide of a cascade: though to the eye above the stream, it is an object of no consequence. In all the scenes we had yet passed, the water moving with a flow, and solemn pace, the objects around kept time, as it were, with it; and every steep, and every rock, which hung over the river, was solemn, tranquil, and majestic. But here, the violence of the stream, and the roaring of the waters, impressed a new character on the scene: all was agitation, and uproar; and every steep, and every rock stared with wildness, and terror.
A fishing-boat is used in this part of the river, which is curious. It is constructed of waxed canvas, stretched over a few slight ribs; and holds only a single man. It is called a coricle; and is derived probably, as its name imports, from the ancient boat, which was formed of leather.
An adventrous fellow, for a wager, once navigated a coricle as far as the Isle of Lundy, at the mouth of the Bristol-channel. A full fortnight, or more, he spent in this dangerous voyage; and it was happy for him, that it was a fortnight of serene weather. Many a current, and many an eddy; many a flowing tide, and many an ebbing one, afforded him occasion to exert all his skill, and dexterity. Sometimes his little bark was carried far to leeward; and sometimes as far to windward; but still he recovered his course; persevered in his undertaking; and at length happily atchieved it. When he returned to the New-Weir, report says, the account of his expedition was received like a voyage round the world.
Below the New-Weir are other rocky views of the same kind, though less beautiful. But description flags in running over such a monotony of terms. High, low, steep, woody, rocky, and a few others, are all the colours of language we have, to describe scenes; in which there are infinite gradations; and, amidst some general sameness, infinite peculiarities.
After we had passed a few of these scenes, the hills gradually descend into Monmouth; which lies too low to make any appearance from the water: but on landing, we found it a pleasant town, and neatly built. The town-house, and church, are both handsome.
The transmutations of time are often ludicrous. Monmouth-castle was formerly the palace of a king; and birth-place of a mighty prince: it is now converted into a yard for fatting ducks.
The sun had set before we arrived at Monmouth. Here we met our chaise; but, on enquiry, finding a voyage more likely to produce amusement, than a journey, we made a new agreement with our bargemen, and embarked again, the next morning.
As we left Monmouth, the banks, on the left, were, at first, low; but on both sides they soon grew steep, and woody; varying their shapes, as they had done the day before. The most beautiful of these scenes is in the neighbourhood of St. Breval’s castle; where the vast, woody declivities, on each hand, are uncommonly magnificent. The castle is at too great a distance to make any object in the view.
The weather was now serene: the sun shone; and we saw enough of the effect of light, in the exhibitions of this day, to regret the want of it before.
During the whole course of our voyage from Ross, we had scarce seen one cornfield. The banks of the Wye consist, almost entirely either of wood, or of pasturage; which I mention as a circumstance of peculiar value in landscape. Furrowed-lands, and waving-corn, however charming in pastoral poetry, are ill-accommodated to painting. The painter never desires the hand of art to touch his grounds.—But if art must stray among them—if it must mark out the limits of property, and turn them to the uses of agriculture; he wishes, that these limits may be as much concealed as possible; and that the lands they circumscribe, may approach, as nearly as may be, to nature—that is, that they maybe pasturage. Pasturage not only presents an agreeable surface: but the cattle, which graze it, add great variety, and animation to the scene.
The Meadows, below Monmouth, which run shelving from the hills to the waterside, were particularly beautiful, and well-inhabited. Flocks of sheep were every where hanging on their green steeps; and herds of cattle occupying the lower grounds. We often sailed past groups of them laving their sides in the water; or retiring from the heat under sheltered banks:
In this part of the river, which now begins to widen, we were often entertained with light vessels gliding past us. Their white sails passing along the sides of the hills were very picturesque.
In many places also the views were varied by the prospect of bays, and harbours in miniature; where little barks lay moored, taking in ore, and other commodities from the mountains. These vessels, designed plainly for rougher water, than they at present incountred, shewed us, without any geographical knowledge, that we approached the sea.
From Monmouth we reached, by a late breakfast-hour, the noble ruin of Tintern-abbey; which belongs to the Duke of Beaufort; and is esteemed, with its appendages, the most beautiful and picturesque view on the river.
Castles, and abbeys have different situations, agreeable to their respective uses. The castle, meant for defence, stands boldly on the hill: the abbey, intended for meditation, is hid in the sequestered vale.
Ah! happy thou, if one superior rock
Such is the situation of Tintern-abbey. It occupies a gentle eminence in the middle of a circular valley, beautifully screened on all sides by woody hills; through which the river winds its course; and the hills, dosing on its entrance, and on its exit, leave no room for inclement blasts to enter. A more pleasing retreat could not easily be found. The woods, and glades intermixed; the winding of the river; the variety of the ground the splendid ruin, contrasted with the objects of nature; and the elegant line formed by the summits of the hills, which include the whole; make all together a very enchanting piece of scenery. Every thing around breathes an air so calm, and tranquil; so sequestered from the commerce of life, that it is easy to conceive, a man of warm imagination, in monkish times, might have been allured by such a scene to become an inhabitant of it.
No part of the ruins of Tintern is seen from the river, except the abbey-church. It has been an elegant Gothic pile; but it does not make that appearance as a distant object, which we expected. Though the parts are beautiful, the whole is ill-shaped. No ruins of the tower are left, which might give form, and contrast to the walls, and buttresses, and other inferior parts. Instead of this, a number of gabel-ends hurt the eye with their regularity; and disgust it by the vulgarity of their shape. A mallet judiciously used (but who durst use it?) might be of service in fracturing some of them; particularly those of the cross isles, which are not only disagreeable in themselves, but confound the perspective.
But were the building ever so beautiful, incompassed as it is with shabby houses, it could make no appearance from the river. From a stand near the road, it is seen to more advantage.
But if Tintern-abbey be less striking as a distant object, it exhibits, on a nearer view, (when the whole together cannot be seen, but the eye settles on some of its nobler parts,) a very inchanting piece of ruin. Nature has now made it her own. Time has worn off all traces of the rule: it has blunted the sharp edges of the chissel; and broken the regularity of opposing parts. The figured ornaments of the east-window are gone; those of the west-window are left. Most of the other windows, with their principal ornaments, remain.
To these are superadded the ornaments of time. Ivy, in masses uncommonly large, has taken possession of many parts of the wall; and gives a happy contrast to the grey-coloured stone, of which the building is composed. Nor is this undecorated. Mosses of various hues, with lychens, maidenhair, penny-leaf, and other humble plants, overspread the surface; or hang from every joint, and crevice. Some of them were in flower, others only in leaf, but, all together, they give those full-blown tints, which add the richest finishing to a ruin.
Such is the beautiful appearance, which Tintern-abbey exhibits on the outside, in those parts, where we can obtain a near view of it. But when we enter it, we see it in most perfection: at least, if we consider it as an independent object, unconnected with landscape. The roof is gone: but the walls, and pillars, and abutments, which supported it, are intire. A few of the pillars indeed have given way; and here, and there, a piece of the facing of the wall: but in correspondent parts, one always remains to tell the story. The pavement is obliterated: the elevation of the choir is no longer visible: the whole area is reduced to one level; cleared of rubbish; and covered with neat turf, closely shorn; and interrupted with nothing, but the noble columns, which formed the isles, and supported the tower.
When we stood at one end of this awful piece of ruin; and surveyed the whole in one view—the elements of air, and earth, its only covering, and pavement; and the grand, and venerable remains, which terminated both—perfect enough to form the perspective; yet broken enough to destroy the regularity; the eye was above measure delighted with the beauty, the greatness, and the novelty of the scene. More picturesque it certainly would have been, if the area, unadorned, had been left with all its rough fragments of ruin scattered round; and bold was the hand that removed them: yet as the outside of the ruin, which is the chief object of picturesque curiosity, is still left in all its wild, and native rudeness; we excuse—perhaps we approve—the neatness, that is introduced within. It may add to the beauty of the scene—to its novelty it undoubtedly does.
Among other things in this scene of desolation, the poverty and wretchedness of the inhabitants were remarkable. They occupy little huts, raised among the ruins of the monastery; and seem to have no employment, but begging: as if a place, once devoted to indolence, could never again become the seat of industry. As we left the abbey, we found the whole hamlet at the gate, either openly soliciting alms; or covertly, under the pretence of carrying us to some part of the ruins, which each could shew; and which was far superior to any thing, which could be shewn by any one else. The most lucrative occasion could not have excited more jealousy, and contention.
One poor woman we followed, who had engaged to shew us the monk's library. She could scarce crawl; shuffling along her palsied limbs, and meagre, contracted body, by the help of two sticks. She led us, through an old gate, into a place overspread with nettles, and briars; and pointing to the remnant of a shattered cloister, told us, that was the place. It was her own mansion. All indeed she meant to tell us, was the story of her own wretchedness; and all she had to shew us, was her own miserable habitation. We did not expect to be interested: butwe found we were. I never saw so loathsome a human dwelling. It was a cavity, loftily vaulted, between two ruined walls; which streamed with various-coloured stains of unwholsome dews. The floor was earth; yielding, through moisture, to the tread. Not the merest utensil, or furniture of any kind, appeared, but a wretched bedstead, spread with a few rags, and drawn into the middle of the cell, to prevent its receiving the damp, which trickled down the walls. At one end was an aperture; which served just to let in light enough to discover the wretchedness within.—When we stood in the midst of this cell of misery; and felt the chilling damps, which struck us in every direction, we were rather surprised, that the wretched inhabitant was still alive; than that she had only lost the use of her limbs.
The country about Tintern-abbey hath been described as a solitary, tranquil scene: but its immediate environs only are meant. Within half a mile of it are carried on great iron-works; which introduce noise and bustle into these regions of tranquillity.
The ground, about these works, appears from the river to consist of grand woody hills, sweeping, and intersecting each other, in elegant lines. They are a continuation of the same kind of landscape, as that about Tintem-abbey; and are fully equal to it.
As we still descend the river, the same scenery continues. The banks are equally steep, winding, and woody; and in some parts diversified by prominent rocks, and ground finely broken, and adorned.
But one great disadvantage began here to invade us. Hitherto the river had been dear, and splendid; reflecting the several objects on its banks. But its waters now became ouzy, and discoloured. Sludgy banks too appeared, on each side; and other symptoms, which discovered the influence of a tide.
Mr. Morris’s improvements at Persfield, which we soon approached, are generally thought as much worth a traveller’s notice, as any thing on the banks of the Wye. We pushed on shore close under his rocks; and the tide being at ebb, we landed with some difficulty on an ouzy beach. One of our bargemen, who knew the place, served as a guide; and under his conduct we climbed the steep by an easy, regular zig-zag; and gained the top.
The eminence, on which we stood, (one of those grand eminences, which overlooks the Wye,) is an intermixture of rock, and wood; and forms, in this place, a concave semicircle; sweeping round in a segment of two miles. The river winds under it; and the scenery, of course, is shewn in various directions. The river itself indeed, as we just observed, is charged with the impurities of the soil it washes; and when it ebbs, its verdant banks become slopes of mud: but if we except these disadvantages, the situation of Persfield is noble.
Little indeed was left for improvement, but to open walks, and views, through the woods, to the various objects around them. All this the ingenious proprietor hath done with great judgment, and hath shewn his rocks, his woods, and his precipices, under various forms; and to great advantage. Sometimes a broad face of rock is presented, stretching along a vast space, like the walls of a citadel. Sometimes it is broken by intervening trees. In other parts, the rocks rise above the woods; a little farther, they sink below them: sometimes, they are seen through them; and sometimes one series of rocks appears rising above another: and though many of these objects are repeatedly seen, yet seen with new accompaniments, they appear new. The winding of the precipice is the magical secret, by which all these inchanting scenes are produced.
We cannot however call these views picturesque. They are either presented from too high a point; or they have little to mark them as characteristic; or they do not fall into such composition, as would appear to advantage on canvas. But they are extremely romantic; and give a loose to the most pleasing riot of imagination.
These views are chiefly shewn from different stands in a dose walk, carried along the brow of the precipice. It would be invidious perhaps to remark a degree of tediousness in this walk; and too much sameness in many of the views; notwithstanding the general variety, which inlivens them: but the intention probably is not yet complete; and many things are meant to be hid, which are now too profusely shewn.
Having seen every thing on this side of the hill, the walks we pursued, led us over the ridge of it to the opposite side. Here the ground, depositing its wild appearance, assumes a more civilized form. It consists of a great variety of lawns, intermixed with wood, and some rocks; and, though it often rises, and falls, yet it descends without any violence into the country beyond it
The views, on this side, are not the romantic steeps of the Wye: but though of another species, they are equally grand. They are chiefly distances; consisting of the vast waters of the Severn, here an arm of the sea; bounding a remote country—of the mouth of the Wye entering the Severn—and of the town of Chepstow, and its castle, and abbey. Of all these distant objects an admirable use is made; and they are shewn, (as the rocks of the Wye were on the other side) sometimes in parts; and sometimes all together. In one station we had the scenery of both sides of the hill at once.
It is a pity, the ingenious embellisher of these scenes could not have been satisfied with the grand beauties of nature, which he commanded. The shrubberies he has introduced in this part of his improvements, I fear, will rather be esteemed paltry. As the embellishments of a house; or as the ornament of little scenes, which have nothing better to recommend them, a few flowering shrubs may have their elegance and beauty: but in scenes, like this, they are only splendid patches, which injure the grandeur, and simplicity of the whole.
It is not the shrub, which offends: it is the formal introduction of it. Wild underwood may be an appendage of the grandest scene. It is a beautiful appendage. A bed of violets, or lillies may enamel the ground, with propriety, at the root of an oak: but if you introduce them artificially in a border, you introduce a trifling formality; and disgrace the noble object, you wish to adorn.
From the scenes of Persfield we walked to Chepstow; our barge drawing too much water to pass the shallows, till the return of the tide. In this walk we wished for more time, than we could command, to examine the romantic scenes, which surrounded us: but we were obliged to return, that evening, to Monmouth.
The road, at first, affords beautiful distant views of those woody hills, which had entertained us on the banks of the Wye; and which appeared to as much advantage, when connected with the country, as they had already done in union with the river. But the country soon loses its picturesque form; and assumes a bleak unpleasant wildness.
About seven miles from Chepstow, we had an extensive view into Wales, bounded by mountains very remote. But this view, though much celebrated, has little, except the grandeur of extension, to recommend it. And yet, it is possible, that in some lights it may be very picturesque; and that we might only have had the misfortune to see it in an unfavourable one. Different lights make so great a change even in the composition of landscape—at least in the apparent composition of it, that they create a scene perfectly new. In distance especially this is the case. Hills and vallies are deranged: awkward abruptnesses, and hollows are introduced: and the effect of woods, and castles, and all the ornamental detail of a country, is lost. On the other hand, these ingredients of landscape may in reality be awkwardly introduced; but through the magical influence of light, they may be altered, softened, and rendered pleasing.
In a mountainous country particularly, I have often seen, during the morning hours, a range of hills, rearing their summits, in ill-disposed, fantastic shapes. In the afternoon, all this incorrect rudeness has been removed; and each mishapen summit hath softened beautifully into some pleasing form.
The different seasons of the year also produce the same effect. When the sun rides high in summer; and when, in the same meridian, he just skirts the horizon in winter, he forms the mountain-tops, and indeed the whole face of a country, into very different appearances.
Fogs also vary a distant country as much as light, softening the harsh features of landscape; and spreading over them a beautiful, grey, harmonizing tint.
We remark further, on this subject, that scarce any landscape will stand the test of different lights. Some searching ray, as the sun veers round, will expose its defects. And hence it is, that almost every landscape is seen best under some peculiar illumination—either of an evening, or of a morning sun; or, it may be, of noon-day.
During many miles we kept upon the heights; and, through a long, and gentle descent, approached Monmouth. Before we reached it we were benighted: but as far as we could judge of a country through the grey obscurity of a summer-evening, this seemed to abound with many beautiful, woody vallies, among the hills, which we descended. A light of this kind, though not so favourable to landscape, is very favourable to the imagination. This active power embodies half formed images; and gives existence to the most illusive scenes. These it rapidly combines; and often composes landscapes, perhaps more beautiful, than any, that exist in nature. They are formed indeed from nature—from the most beautiful of her scenes; and having been treasured up in the memory, are called into these imaginary creations by some distant resemblances, which strike the eye in the multiplicity of evanid surfaces, that float before it.
From Monmouth to Abergavenny, by Ragland-castle, the road is a good stone causeway; (as the roads, in these parts, commonly are;) and leads through a pleasant, inclosed country; discovering, on each side, extensive views of rich cultivation.
Ragland-castle seemed to stand, (as we saw it from the heights) in a rich vale: but as we descended, it took an elevated station. It is a large, and very noble ruin; though more perfect than ruins of this kind commonly are. It contains two areas within the ditch; into each of which you enter by a very large, and deep gateway.
The buildings, which circumscribe the first area, consist of the kitchen, and offices. It is amusing to hear stories of ancient hospitality. “Here are the remains of an oven,” said our conductor, “which was large enough to bake a whole ox; and of a fire-range, wide enough to roast him”.
The grand hall, or banquetting-room, a large and lofty apartment, forms the screen between the two areas; and is perfect, except the roof The music-gallery may be distinctly traced; and the butteries, which divide the hall from a parlour. Near the hall is shewn a narrow chapel.
On viewing the comparative size of halls and chapels in old castles, one can hardly, at first, avoid observing, that the founders of these ancient structures supposed, a much greater number of people would meet together to feast, than to pray. And yet we may perhaps account for the thing, without calling in question the piety of our ancestors. The hall was meant to regale a whole country; while the chapel was intended only for the private use of the inhabitants of the castle.
The whole area of the first inclosure, is vaulted, and contains cellars, dungeons, and other subterraneous apartments.—The buildings of the second area are confined merely to chambers.
Near the castle stand the citadel, a large octagonal tower; two or three sides of which are still remaining. This tower is incircled by a separate moat; and was formerly joined to the castle by a draw-bridge.
Ragland-castle owes its present picturesque form to Cromwell; who laid his iron hands upon it; and shattered it into ruin. A window is still shewn, through which a girl in the garrison, by waving a handkerchief, introduced his troops.
From Ragland-castle the views are still extensive, the roads inclosed, and the country rich. The distances are skirted by the Brecknoc-hills; among which the sugar-loaf makes a remarkable appearance.
The Brecknoc-hills are little more, than gentle swellings, cultivated to the top. For many miles they kept their station in a distant range on each side. But, by degrees, they began to close in; approximating more and more; and leaving in front, a narrow pass between them; through which an extensive country appeared. Through this pass, we hoped, the progress of our road would lead us; as it seemed to open into a fair, and beautiful country.
It led us first to Abergavenny, a small town, which has formerly been fortified, lying under the hills. We approached it by the castle; of which nothing remains, but a few staring ruins.
From hence we were carried, as we expected, through the pass, which we had long observed at a distance. It opened into the vale of Usk.
The vale of Usk, is a delightful scene. The river, from whence it borrows it name, winds through the middle of it; and the hills, on both sides, were diversified with woods, and lawns. In many places, they were partially cultivated. We could distinguish little cottages, and farms, faintly traced along their shadowy sides; which, at such a distance, rather varied, and inriched the scene; than impressed it with any regular, and unpleasing shapes.
Through this kind of road we passed many miles. The Usk continued, every where, our amusing companion; and if, at any time, it made a more devious curve, than usual, we were sure to meet it again, at the next turn. Our passage through the vale was still more inlivened by many little foaming rills, which crossed the road (some of them so large, as to make bridges necessary,) and two ruined castles; with which, at proper intervals, the country is adorned.
After leaving the latter of them, called Tretower-castle, we mounted some high grounds; which gave a variety to the scene, though not so picturesque an exhibition of it. Here the road brought us in view of Langor’s-pool; which is no very inconsiderable lake. As we descended these heights, the Usk met us once more at the bottom, and conducted us into Brecknoc.
Brecknoc is a very romantic place, abounding with broken grounds, torrents, dismantled towers, and ruins of every kind. I have seen few places, where a landscape-painter might get a collection of better ideas. The castle has once been large; and is still a ruin of dignity. It is easy to trace the main body, the citadel, and all the parts of ancient fortification.
In many places indeed these works are too much ruined, even for picturesque use. Yet, ruined as they are, as far as they go, they are very amusing. The arts of modem fortification are ill calculated for the purposes of landscape. The angular, and formal works of Vauban, and Cohorn, when it comes to their turn to be superseded by works of superior invention, will make a poor figure in the annals of picturesque beauty. No eye will ever be delighted with their ruins: while not the least fragment of a British or a Norman castle exists, that is not surveyed with delight.
But the most beautiful scenery we saw at Brecknoc, is about the abbey. We had a view of it, though but a transient view, from a little bridge in the neighbourhood. There we saw a sweet limpid stream, glistening over a bed of pebbles; and forming two or three cascades, as it hurried to the bridge. It issued from a wood, with which its banks were beautifully hung. Amidst the gloom arose the venerable remains of the abbey, tinged with a bright ray, which discovered a profusion of rich Gothic workmanship; and contrasted the grey stone, of which the ruins are composed, with the feathering foliage, that floated round them: but we had not time to examine, how all these beauteous parts were formed into a whole.—The imagination formed it, after the vision vanished. But though it might possibly create a whole, more agreeable to the rules of painting; yet it could scarce do justice to the beauty of the parts.
From Brecknoc, in our road to Trecastle, we enter a country very different from the vale of Usk. This too is a vale: but nature has always some peculiar character, with which she marks even kindred scenes. The vale of Usk is almost one continued winding sweep. The road now played among a variety of hills. The whole seemed to consist of one greatvale divided into a multiplicity of parts. All together, they wanted unity; but separately, afforded a number of those sweet passages, which, treasured up in the memory, become the ingredients of future landscapes.
Sometimes the road, instead of winding round the hills, took the shortest way over them. In general, they are cultivated, like those of the vale of Usk: but as the cultivation in many of them is brought too near the eye, it becomes rather offensive. Our best ideas were obtained from such, as were adorned with wood; and fell, in various forms, into the vallies below.
In these scenes we had lost the Usk, our sweet, playful companion in the vale: but other rivers of the same kind frequently met us, though they seldom continued long; disappearing in haste, and hiding themselves among the little, tufted recesses, at the bottom of the hills.
In general, the Welsh gentlemen, in these parts, seem fond of whitening their houses, which gives them a disagreeable glare. A speck of white is often beautiful; but white, in profusion, is, of all tints, the most inharmonious. A white seat, at the corner of a wood, or a few white cattle grazing in a meadow, inliven a scene perhaps more, than if the seat, or the castle, had been of any other colour. They have meaning, and effect. But a front, and two staring wings; an extent of rails; a huge Chinese bridge; the tower of a church; and a variety of other large objects, which we often see daubed over with white, make a disagreeable appearance; and unite ill with the general simplicity of nature’s colouring.
Nature never colours in this offensive way. Her surfaces are never white. The chalky cliff is the only permanent object of the kind, which she allows to be her’s; and this seems rather a force upon her from the boisterous action of a furious element. But even here it is her constant endeavour to correct the offensive tint. She hangs her cliffs with samphire, and other marine plants; or she stains them with various hues; so as to remove, in part at least, the disgusting glare. The western end of the isle of Wight, called the Needle-cliffs, is a remarkable instance of this. These rocks are of a substance nearly resembling chalk: but nature has so reduced their unpleasant lustre by a variety of chastising tints, that in most lights they have even a beautiful effect. She is continually at work also, in the same manner, on the white cliffs about Dover; though her endeavours here are more counteracted by a greater exposure. But here, and in all other places, were it not for the intervention of foreign causes, she would in time throw her green mantle over every naked and exposed part of her surface.
In these remarks I mean only to insinuate, that white is a hue, which nature expunged from all her works, except in the touch of a flower, an animal, a cloud, a wave, or some other diminutive, or transient object; and that her mode of colouring should always be the model of our’s.
In animadverting however on white objects, I would only censure the mere raw tint. It may easily be corrected, and turned into stone-colours of various hues; which, though light, if not too light, may often have a good effect
Mr. Lock, who did me the favour to overlook these papers, made some remarks
on this part of my subject, which are so new, and so excellent, that I cannot, without impropriety, take the credit of them myself.
White offers a more extended scale of light, and shadow, than any other colour, when near; and is more susceptible of the predominant tint of the air, when distant. The transparency of its shadows, (which in near objects partake so little of darkness, that they are rather second lights) discover, without injuring the principal light, all the details of surfaces.
I partake however of your general dislike to the colour; and though I have seen a very splendid effect from an accidental light on a white object; yet I thing it a hue, which oftener injures, than it improves the scene. It particularly disturbs the air in its office of graduating distances; skews objects nearer, than they really are; and by pressing them on the eye, often gives them an importance, which from their form, and situation, they are not intitled to.
The white of snow is so active, and refractory, as to resist the discipline of every harmonizing principle. I think I never saw Mont Blanc, and the range of snows, which runs through Savoy, in union with the rest of the landscape, except when they were tinged by the rays of the rising, and setting sun; or participated of some other tint of the surrounding sky. In the clear, and colourless days so frequent in that country, the Glaciers are always out of tune.
From Trecasde we ascended a steep of three miles; which the country people call a pitch. It raised us to a level with the neighbouring hills; whose rugged summits formed all the landscape we had. No sweet views into the vallies below presented themselves. All around was wild, and barren.
From these heights we descended gently, through a space of seven miles. As we approached the bottom, we saw, at a distance, the town of Llandovery, seated in the meadows below, at the conflux of several rivulets. Unadorned with wood, it made only a naked appearance: but light wreaths of smoke, rising from it in several parts, skewed that it was inhabited: While a ray of the setting sun singled it out among the objects of the vale; and gave it some little consequence in the landscape. As we descended into it, its importance increased. We were met by an old castle, which had formerly defended it, though nothing remains, except the ruins of the citadel.
Llandovery stands at the entrance of the vale of Towy; which, like other vales, receives its name from the river, that winds through it. This delightful scene opened before us, as we left Llandovery, in our way to Llandilo; which stands about twelve miles lower in the vale.
The vale of Towy is still less a scene of cultivation than that of Usk. The woodland views are more frequent; and the whole more wild, and simple. The scenery seems precisely of that kind, with which a great master in landscape was formerly enamoured.
In this vale, the river Towy, though it frequently met us, and always kept near us; yet did not so constantly appear, and bear us such dose company, as the Usk had done before. Some heights too we ascended; but such heights as were only proper stands, from whence we viewed in greater perfection the inchanting beauties of the vale.
This is the scene, which Dyer celebrated, in his poem of Grongar-hill. Dyer was bred a painter; and had here a picturesque subject: but he does not give us so fine a landscape, as might have been expected. We have no where a complete, formed distance; though it is the great idea suggested by such a vale as this: no where any touches of that beautiful obscurity, which melts a variety of objects into one rich whole. Here and there, we have a few accidental strokes, which belong to distance; though seldom masterly: I call them accidental; because they are not employed in producing a landscape; nor do they in fact unite in any such idea; but are rather introductory to some moral sentiment; which, however good in itself, is here forced, and mistimed.
Dinevawr-castle, which stands about a mile from Llandilo, and the scenery around it, were the next objects of our curiosity. This castle is seated on one of the sides of the vale of Towy; where it occupies a bold eminence, richly adorned with wood. It was used, not long ago, as a mansion: but Mr. Rice, the proprietor of it, has built a handsome house in his park, about a mile from the castle; which, however, he still preserves, as one of the greatest ornaments of his place.
This castle also is taken notice of by Dyer in his Grongar-hill; and seems intended as an object in a distance. But his distances, I observed, are all in confusion; and indeed it is not easy to separate them from his foregrounds.
The landscape he gives us, in which the castle of Dinevawr makes a part, is seen from the brow of a distant hill. The first object, that meets his eye, is a wood. It is just beneath him; and he easily distinguishes the several trees, of which it is composed:
The gloomy pine, the poplar blue,
This is perfectly right: objects so near the eye should be distinctly marked. What next strikes him, is a purple-grove; that is, I presume, a grove, which has gained its purple-hue from distance. This is, no doubt, very just colouring; though it is here, I think, introduced rather too early in the landscape. The blue, and purple tints belong chiefly to the most removed objects; which seem not here to be intended. Thus far however I should not greatly cavil.
The next object he surveys, is a level lawn, from which a hill, crowned with a castle, which is meant, I am informed, for that of Dinevawr, arises. here his great want of keeping appears. His castle, instead of being marked with still fainter colours, than the purple-grove, is touched with all the strength of a foreground. You see the very ivy creeping upon its walls. Transgressions of this kind are common in descriptive poetry. Innumerable instances might be collected from much better poems, than Grongar-hill. But I mention only the inaccuracies of an author, who, as a painter, should at least have observed the most obvious principles of his art.—With how much more picturesque beauty does Milton introduce a distant castle.
Towers, and battlements he sees, Bosomed high in tufted trees.
Here we have all the indistinct colouring, which obscures a distant object. We do not see the iron-grated window, the portcullis, the ditch, or the rampart. We can just distinguish a castle from a tree; and a tower from a battlement.
The scenery around Dinevawr-castle is very beautiful; consisting of a rich profusion of wood, and lawn. But what particularly recommends it, is the great variety of the ground. I know few places, where a painter might study the inequalities of a surface with more advantage.
Nothing gives so just an idea of the beautiful swellings of ground, as those of water; where it has sufficient room to undulate, and expand. In ground, which is composed of very refractory materials, you are presented often with harsh lines, angular insertions, and disagreeable abruptnesses. In water, whether in gentle, or in agitated motion, all is easy; all is softened into itself; and the hills and the values play into each other in a variety of the most beautiful forms. In agitated water abruptnesses indeed there are; but yet they are such abruptnesses, as, in some part or other, unite properly with the surface around them; and are, on the whole, perfectly harmonious. Now if the ocean, in any of these swellings, and agitations, could be arrested, and fixed, it would produce that pleasing variety, which we admire in ground. Hence it is common to fetch our images from water, and apply them to land. We talk of an undulating line, a playing lawn, and a billowy surface; and give a much stronger, and more adequate idea, by such imagery, than plain language can possibly present.
The woods, which adorn these beautiful scenes about Dinevawr-castle, and which are dumped with great beauty, consist chiefly of the finest oak; some of them of large Spanish chesnuts. There are a few, and but a few, young plantations.
The picturesque scenes, which this place affords, are numerous. Wherever the castle appears, and it appears almost every where, a landscape purely picturesque is generally presented. The ground is so beautifully disposed, that it is almost impossible to have bad composition. And the opposite side of the vale often appears as a background; and makes a pleasing distance.
Some where, among the woody scenes of Dinevawr, Spenser hash conceived, with that splendor of imagination, which brightens all his descriptions, the cave of Merlin to be seated. Whether there is any opening in the ground, which favours the fiction, I find no account; the stanzas however are too much in place to be omitted.
To Maridunum, that is now, by change
As we returned from Dinevawr-castle, into the road, a noble scene opened before us. It is a distant view of a grand, circular part of the vale of Towy, (circular at least in appearance) surrounded by hills, one behind another; and forming a vast amphitheatre. Through this expanse, (which is rich to profusion with all the objects of cultivation, melted together into one mass by distance) the Towy winds in various meanders. The eye cannot trace the whole serpentine course of the river; but sees it, here and there, in glittering spots, which gives the imagination a pleasing employment in making out the whole. The nearest hills partake of the richness of the vale: the distant hills, which rise gently above the others, seem barren.
From Dinevawr-castle we set out, across the country, for Neath. A good turnpike. road, we were assured, would lead us thither: but we were told much of the difficulty of passing the mountain, as they emphatically call a ridge of very high ground, which lay before us.
Though we had left the vale of Towy, the country continued to wear the same face of hill, and dale, which it had so long worn. On the right, we had long a distant view of the scenery of Dinevawr-castle; which appeared like a grand, woody bank. The woods also of Golden-grove varied the scene. Soon after, other castles, seated loftily on rising grounds, adorned other vales; Truslan-castle on the right, and Kirkennel, on the left.
But all these beautiful scenes, by degrees, were dosed. Castles, and winding rivers, and woody banks, were swallowed up, one after another: no succession of sweet distances arose. We approached, nearer and nearer, the bleak mountain; which began to spread its dark mantle athwart the view.
It did not however advance precipitately. Though it had long blotted out all distance; yet its environs afforded a present scene; and partook of the beautiful country we had passed. The ground about its foot was agreeably disposed; swelling into a variety of little knolls, covered with oak; which a foaming rivulet, winding along, shaped into tufted islands, and peninsulas of different forms; wearing away the soil in some parts from the roots of the trees; and in others delving deep channels: while the mountain afforded a dark, solemn background to the whole.
We not began to ascend its steeps, but before we had risen too high, we turned round to take a retrospect of all the rich scenes together, which we had left behind. It was a noble view; distance melting into distance; till the whole was closed by a semicircle of azure mountins, scarce distinguishable from the azure sky, which absorbed them.
Still ascending the spiral road round the shaggy side of the mountain, we arrived at, what is called, its gate. Here all idea of cultivation ceased. That was not deplorable: but with it our turnpike-road ceased also; which was finished, on this side, no farther than the mountain-gate. We had gotten a guide however to conduct us over the pathless desart. But it being too steep, and rugged to ascend on wheels, we were obliged to lighten our carriage, and ascend on foot.
In the midst of our labour, our guide called out, that he saw a storm driving towards us, along the tops of the mountains; a circumstance indeed, which in these hilly countries, cannot often be avoided. We asked him, How far it was off? He answered, Ten minutes. In less time, sky, mountains, and wallies were all wraps in one cloud of obscurity Our recompense consisted in following with our eye the rear of the storm; observing, through its broken skirts, a thousand beautiful effects, and half-formed images, which were continually opening, lost, and varying; till the sun breaking out, the whole resplendent landscape appeared again, with double radiance, under the leaden gloom of the retiring tempest.
When we arrived at the top of the mountain, we found a level plain; which continued at least two miles. It was, in itself, a noble terrace; but was too widely spread, to give us a display of much distant scenery.
At length, we began to descend the mountain; and soon met an excellent turnpike road, down which we slid swiftly, in an elegant spiral; and found, when we came to the bottom, that we had spent near four hours in surmounting this great obstruction.
Having thus passed the mount Cenis of this country, we fell into the same kind of beautiful scenery on this side of it, which we had left on the other: only here the scene was continually shifting, as if by magical interposition.
We were first presented with a view of a deep, woody glen, lying below us; which the eye could not penetrate, resting only on the tops, and tuftings of the trees.
This suddenly vanished; and a grand, rocky bank arose in front; richly adorned with wood.
It was instantly gone; and we were shut up in a dose, woody lane.
In a moment, the lane opened on the right, and we had a view of an inchanting vale.
We caught its beauties as a vision only. In an instant, they fled; and in their room arose two bold woody promontories. We could just discover between them, as they floated past, a creek, or the mouth of a river, or a channel of the sea; we knew not what it was: but it seemed divided by a stretch of land of dingy hue; which appeared like a sand-bank.
This scene shifting, immediately arose, on our left, a vast hill, covered with wood; through which, here and there, projected huge masses of rock.
In a few moments it vanished, and a grove of trees suddenly shot up in its room.
But before we could even discover of what species they were, the rocky hill, which had just appeared on the left, winding rapidly round, presented itself full in front. It had now acquired a more tremendous form. The wood, which had before hid its terrors, was now gone; and the rocks were all left, in their native wildness, every where bursting from the soil.
Many of the objects, which had floated so rapidly past us, if we had had time to examine them, would have given us sublime, and beautiful hints in landscape- some of them seemed even well combined, and ready prepared for the pencil: but, in so quick a succession, one blotted out another.—The country at length giving way on both sides, a view opened, which suffered the eye to rest upon it.
The river Neath, covered with shipping, was spread before us. Its banks were inriched with wood; amidst which arose the ruins of Neath-abbey, with its double tower. Beyond the river, the country arose in hills; which were happily adorned, when we saw them, in a dear, serene evening, with one or two of those distant forges, or charcoal-pits, which we admired on the banks of the Wye; wreathing a light veil of smoke along their summits, and blending them sweetly with the sky.—Through this landscape we entered the town of Neath; which, with its old castle, and bridges, excited many picturesque ideas.
As we left Neath, a grand vista of woody mountains, pursuing each other along the river, and forming, no doubt, some inchanting vale, if we had had time to examine it, stretched into remote distance.
The vistas of art are tame, and formal. They consist of streets; or of trees planted nicely in rows; or of some other species of regularity. Nature’s vistas are of a different cast. She forms them sometimes of mountains, sometimes of rocks, and sometimes of woods. But all her works even of this formal kind, are the works of a master. If the idea of regularity be impressed on the general form, the parts are broken with a thousand varieties. Her vistas are models to paint from. In this, both the mountains themselves are beautiful; and the perspective combination of them.
The broken ground about a copper-work, a little beyond the town, would afford hints for a noble landscape. Two contiguous hills appear as if riven asunder; and lay open a very picturesque scene of rocky fragments, interspersed with wood; through which a torrent, forcing it’s way, forms two or three cascades, before it reaches the bottom.
A little beyond this, the views, which had entertained us, as we entered Neath, entertained us a second time, as we left it. The river, covered with shipping, presented itself again. The woody scenery arose on it’s banks: and the abbey appeared among the woods; though in different perspective, and in a more removed situation.
Here too we were again presented with those two woody promontories, which we had seen before, with a creek, or channel between them, divided by what seemed a sand-bank. We had now approached much nearer, and found we had been right in our conjecture. The extensive object we had seen, was the bank of Margam; which, when the sea retires, is a vast, sandy flat.
From hence we had, for a considerable time, continued views, on the left, of grand, woody promontories, pursuing each other, all rich to profusion; with sea-views on the right Such an intermixture of high-lands, and sea, where the objects are beautiful, and well disposed, makes, in general, a very pleasing mode of composition. The roughness of the mountains above, and the smooth expanse of the waters below, wonderfully aid each other by the force of contrast.
From these views we were hurried, at once, upon a bleak sea-coast; which gave a kind of relief to the eye, surfeited with rich landscape to satiety. Margam-sand-bank, which, seen partially, afforded a sweet, chastising tint to the verdure of the woody promontories, through which we had twice seen it; became now (when unsupported, and spread abroad in all its extension) a cold, disgusting object.—But relief was everywhere at hand; and we seldom saw it long, without some intervention of woody scenery.
As we approached the river Abravon, our views degenerated still more. Margansand-bank, which was now only the boundary of marshes, became quite offensive to the eye: and though, on the left, the woody hills continued still shooting after us, yet they had lost their pleasing shapes. No variety of breaks, like the members of architecture, gave a lightness, and elegance to their forms. No mantling furniture invested their sides; nor tufted fringe adorned their promontories; nor dumps of scattered oak discovered the sky, through interstices, along their towering summits. Instead of this, they had degenerated into mere uniform lumps of matter; and were every where overspread with one heavy, uninterrupted bush.
Of this kind were Lord Mansell’s woods, which covered a promontory. Time, with it’s lenient hand, may hereafter hang new beauties upon these hills; when it has corrected their heaviness, by improving the luxuriance of youthful foliage into the lighter forms of aged trees.
From Lord Mansell’s to Pyle, which stands on a bleak coast, the spirit of the country is totally lost.
Here we found the people employed in sending provisions to the shore, where a Dutch West-India ship had just been wrecked. Fifteen lives were lost; and among them the whole family of a Zealand merchant, who was bringing his children for education to Amsterdam. The populace came down in large bodies to pillage the wreck; which the officers of the customs, and gentlemen of the country, assembled to protect.—It was a busy scene, composed of multitudes of men, carts, horses, and horsemen.
The bustle of a croud is not ill-adapted to the pencil: but the management of it requires great artifice. The whole must be considered as one body, and massed together.
I mean not to have the whole body so agglomerated, as to consist of no detached groups: but to have these groups (of which there should not be more than two or three) appear to belong to one whole, by the artifice of composition, and the effect of light.
This great whole must be varied also in it’s parts. It is not enough to stick bodies and heads together. Figures must be contrasted with figures; and life, spirit, and action must pervade the whole.
Thus in managing a croud, and in managing a landscape, the same general rules are to be observed. The whole, and it’s parts must be combined, and contrasted. But the difficulty is the greater in a croud; as it’s parts, consisting of animated bodies, require a nicer observation of form: and being all similar likewise, they require more art in the combination of them.
Composition indeed has never a more difficult work, than when it is engaged in combining a croud. When a number of people, all coloured alike, are to be drawn up in rank and file; it is not in the art of man to combine them. Modem heroes therefore must not look to have their achievements recorded on canvas, till they abrogate their formal arts. But even when you may take all the advantages of shape, and colour, with which the human form can be varied, or cloathed, we find it still a matter of difficulty enough.
I do not immediately recollect having seen a croud better managed, than Hogarth has managed one in the last print of his idle ‘prentice. In combining the multifarious company, which attends the spectacle of an execution, all the observations I have made, are exemplified. I have not the print before me: but I have often admired it in this light, and do not recollect observing any thing in it that is offensive.
The subject before us is as well adapted, as any species of croud can be, to exhibit the beauties of composition. Horses, carts, and men, make a good assemblage: and this variety in the parts would appear to great advantage from the simplicity of a winding shore; and of a stranded ship, (a large, dark object,) heeling on one side, in a comer of the piece.
From Pyle the country grows still worse, till at last it degenerates into a vile heath; and continues a long time totally unadorned, or at best with a few transient beauties.
At Bridgend, where we meet the river Ogmore, a beautiful landscape bursts again upon us. Woody banks arise on both sides; on the right especially, which continue a considerable way, marking the course of the river. On the left is a rich distance.
From hence we pass in view of cultivated vallies, into which the rich distance, we had just seen, began to form itself.. while the road winds over a kind of terrace above them. An old castle, also inriches the scene; till at length the terrace giving way, we sink into the vale; and enter Cowbridge.
The heights beyond Cowbridge give us the firstview of the Bristol channel on the right. The country between the eye and the water has a marshy appearance; but being well blended, and the lines broken, it makes a tolerable distance. The road passes through pleasant inclosed lanes.
At the fifth stone, before we reached Cardiff, we had a most grand, and extensive view, from the heights of Clanditham. It contained an immense stretch of country, melting gradually into a faint blue semicircle of mountains, which edged the horizon.—This scene indeed, painted in syllables, words, and sentences, appears very like some of the scenes we had met with before: but in nature it was very different from any of them.
In distant views of cultivated countries, seen from lofty stands; the parts, which lie nearest the eye, are commonly disgusting. The divisions of property into squares, rhomboids, and other mathematical forms, are unpleasant. A view of this kind therefore does not assume it’s beauty, till you descend a little into the vale; till the hedgerows begin to lengthen; and form those agreeable discriminations, of which Virgil takes notice; where fields, and meadows become extended streaks; and yet are broken in various parts by rising grounds, castles, and other objects, with which distances abound: melting away from the eye, in one general azure tint; just, here and there, diversified with a few lines of light and shade; and dotted with a few indistinct objects. Then, if you are so happy as to find a ruin, a spreading tree, a bold rock, or some other object, large enough, with it’s appendages, to become a foreground, to fill up the middle space, and balance the distance; you have the chance of being presented with a noble picture, which distance alone cannot give you.
Hence appears the absurdity of carrying a painter to the top of a high hill, to take a view. He cannot do it. Extension alone, though amusing in nature, will never make a picture. It must be supported.
Cardiff lies low; though it is not unpleasantly seated, on the landside, among woody hills. As we approached, it appeared with more of the furniture of antiquity about it, than any town we had seen in Wales: but on the spot the picturesque eye finds it too intire to be in full perfection. The castle, which was formerly the prison of the unfortunate Robert, son of William I, who languished here the last twenty years of his life, is still, I believe, a prison, and in good repair.
From the town and parts adjacent, the windings, and approach of the river Tave from the sea, with a full tide, make a grand appearance. This is, on the whole, the finest estuary, we had seen in Wales.
From the heights beyond Cardiff, the views of the channel, on the right, continue; and of the Welsh mountains on the left: The sugar-loaf, near Abergavenny, appears still distinctly. The road leads through inclosed lanes.
Newport lies pleasantly on a declivity. A good view might be taken from the retrospect of the river, the bridge, and the castle. A few slight alterations would make it picturesque.
Beyond Newport some of the views of the channel were finer than any we had seen. The coast, though it continues flat, becomes more woody, and the parts are larger.
About seven miles from Newport, the road winds among woody hills; which, here and there, form beautiful dips at their intersections. On one of these knolls stand the ruins of a castle; which has once made a grand appearance; but it is now degraded into a modem dwelling.
As we approached the passage over the Bristol channel, the views of it became still more interesting. On the right, we left the magnificent ruins of Caldicot-castle; and arrived at the ferry-house, about three in the afternoon, where we were so fortunate as to find the boat preparing to set sail. It had attempted to cross at high water, in the morning: but after toiling three hours against the wind, it was obliged to put back. This afforded another opportunity, when the water was at ebb: for the boat can pass only at the two extremes of the tide; and seldom oftener than once in a day.
We had scarce alighted at the ferry-house, when we heard the boatman winding his horn from the beach, about a quarter of a mile below, as a signal to bring down the horses. When they were all embarked, the horn sounded again for the passengers. A very multifarious company assembled; and a miserable walk we had to the boat through sludge; and over shelving, and slippery rocks. When we got to it, we found eleven horses on board, and above thirty people; and our chaise (which we had intended to convert into a cabin during the voyage) flung into the shrouds.
The boat, after some struggling with the shelves, at length gained the channel. The wind was unfavourable, which obliged us to make several tacks, as the seamen phrase them. These tacks occasioned a fluttering in the sail: and this produced a fermentation among the horses; till their fears reduced them again to order.
Livy gives us a beautiful picture of the terror of cattle, in a scene of this kind.
Primus eras pavor, quum, solutes rati, in altum raperentur. Ibi urgentes inter se, cedentibus extremis ab aquA, trepidationem aliquantam edebant; donee quietem ipse timor circumspicientibus aquam fecisset.
The scenery of this short voyage was of little value. We had not here the steep, folding banks of the Wye to produce a succession of new landscapes. Our picture now was motionless. From the beginning to the end of the voyage, it continued the same. It was only a display of water; varied by that little change, introduced by distance, in a low margin of land; which, seen from so low a point, as the surface of the water, became a mere thread. The screens bore no proportion to the area.
After beating near two hours against the wind, our voyage concluded, as it began, with an uncomfortable walk through the sludge, to the high-water mark.
The worst part of the affair, is, the usage of horses. If they are unruly, or any accident occurs, there is hardly a possibility, at least if the vessel be crouded, of affording them relief. Early in our voyage, as the boat heeled, one of the poor animals fell down. Many an ineffectual struggle it made to rise; but nothing could be done, till we arrived at the other side.
The operation too of landing horses, is equally disagreeable. They are forced out of the boat, through an aperture in the side of it; which is so inconvenient a mode of egress, that in leaping, many have been hurt from the difficulty of disengaging their hinder legs.
As our chaise could not be landed, till the tide flowed up the beach, we were obliged to wait at the ferry-house. Our windows overlooked the channel, and the Welsh-coast, which seen from a higher stand, became now a woody, and beautiful distance. The wind was brisk, and the sun clear; except that, at intervals, it was intercepted by a few floating clouds. The playing lights, which arose from this circumstance, on the opposite coast, were very picturesque. Pursuing each other, they sometimes just caught the tufted tops of the trees; and sometimes gleaming behind shadowy woods, they spread along the vales, till they faded insensibly away.
Often these partial lights are more stationary; when the clouds, which fling their lengthened shadows on distant grounds, hang, some time, balanced in the air. But whenever found, or from whatever source derived, the painter observes them with the greatest accuracy: He marks their different appearances; and lays them up in his memory among the choice ingredients of distant landscape. Almost alone they are sufficient to vary distance. A multiplicity of objects, melted harmoniously together, contribute to inrich it; but without throwing in those gleaming lights, the artist can hardly avoid heaviness.
From the ferry-house to Bristol, the views are amusing. The first scene presented to us, was a spacious lawn, about a mile in diameter, the area of which was flat; and the boundary, a grand, woody bank; adorned with towers and villas, standing either boldly near the top; or seated in woody recesses near the bottom. The horizon line is well varied, and broken.
The whole of this landscape is too large; and not characterized enough to make a picture; but the contrast between the plain, and the wood, both of which are objects of equal grandeur, is pleasing: and many of the parts, taken separately, would form into good composition.
When we left the plain, the road carried us into shady lanes, winding round woody eminences; one of which was crowned with an artificial castle. The castle indeed, which consisted of one tower, might have been better imagined: the effect however was good, though the object was paltry.
About three miles on this side of Bristol, we had a grand view of rising country. It consisted of a pleasing mixture of wood and lawn; the parts were large; and the houses, and villages scattered in good proportion. The whole, when we saw it, was overspread with a purplish tint, which we could not account for; but it united all the parts together in very pleasing harmony.
Nature’s landscapes are always harmonized. Whether the sky is inlightened, or whether it lowers; whether it is tinted, or whether it is untinted, it gives it’s yellow lustre, or it’s grey obscurity, to the surface of the earth. It is but seldom however, that we meet with those strong harmonizing tints, which the landscape before us presented.
As the air is the vehicle of these tints, distant objects will of course participate of them in the greatest degree; the foregrounds will be little affected, as they are seen only through a very thin veil of air. But when the painter thinks it proper to introduce these strong tints into his distances, he will give his foregrounds likewise in some degree, a participating hue, though in reality it belongs not to them; or, at least, he will work them up with such colours, mute, or vivid, as accord best with the general tone of his landscape.—How far the painter will venture to produce these uncommon appearances of nature, is not a decided question. If the landscape before us were painted with that full purple glow, with which we saw it overspread, the connoisseur would probably take offence, and call it affected.
The approach to Bristol is grand; and the environs every where shew the neigh bourhood of an opulent city; though the city itself lay concealed, till we entered it. For a considerable way, the road led between stone-walls, which bounded the fields on each side. This boundary, though, of all others, the most unpleasing, is yet a proper approach to a great town; as it is a kind of connecting thread with the country.
The narrowness of the port of Bristol, which is formed by the banks of the river, is very striking. It may be called a dry harbour, notwithstanding the river: for the vessels, when the tide ebbs, lie on an ouzy bed, in a deep channel. The returning tide lifts them to the height of the wharfs. It exhibits of course none of those beautiful winding shores, which often adorn an estuary. The port of Bristol was probably first formed, when vessels, afraid of being cut from their harbours by corsairs, chose to run up high into the country for security.
The great church is a remnant only of the ancient fabric. It has been a noble pile, when the nave was complete, and the stunted tower crowned with a spire, as, I suppose, it once was. We were sorry we did not look into Ratcliff-church, which is said to be an elegant piece of Gothic architecture.
The country around Bristol appears to be beautiful; though we had not time to examine it. The scenery about the Hot-wells is in a great degree picturesque. The river is scooped between two high hills both of which are adorned with a rich profusion of rock, wood, and verdure. Here is no off skip indeed; but as far as foregrounds alone make a picture, (and they will do much better alone, than distances) we are presented with a very beautified one. Between these hills stands the pump-room, dose to the river; and every ship, that sails into Bristol, sails under it’s windows.
The road between Bristol and Bath contains very little worth notice. We had been informed of some grand retrospect views; but we did not find them. We were told afterwards, that there are two roads between Bath and Bristol; of which the Glocestershire road is the more picturesque. If so, we unfortunately took the wrong one.
At Bath the buildings are strikingly splendid: but the picturesque eye finds little amusement among such objects. The circus, from a comer of one of the streets, that run into it, is thrown into perspective; and if it be happily inlightened, is seen with advantage. The crescent is built in a simpler, and greater style of architecture, than the circus.
I have heard an ingenious friend, Col. Mitford, who is well-versed in the theory of the picturesque, speak of a very beautiful, and grand effect of light, and shade, which he had sometimes observed from an afternoon-sun, in a bright winter-day, on this structure. No such effect could happen in summer; as the sun, in the same meridian, would be then too high. The elliptical form of the building was the magical source of this exhibition. A grand mass of light, falling on one side of the Crescent, melted imperceptibly into as grand a body of shade on the other; and the effect rose from the opposition, and graduation on these extremes. It was still increased by the pillars, and other members of architecture, which beautifully varied, and broke both the light, and the shade; and gave a wonderful richness to each. The whole, he said, seemed like an effort of nature to set off art; and the eye roved about in astonishment to see a mere mass of regularity become the ground of so inchanting a display of harmony, and picturesque effect.
As objects of curiosity, the parades, the baths, the rooms, and the abbey, are all worth seeing. The rising grounds about Bath, as they appear from the town, are a great ornament to it: though they have nothing pleasing in themselves. There is no variety in the out-line; no breaks; no masses of woody scenery.
From Bath to Chippenham the road is pleasant; but I know not, that it deserves any higher epithet.
From Chippenham to Marlborough, we passed over a wild plain, which conveys no idea, but that of vastness, unadorned with beauty.
Nature, in scenes like these, seems only to have chalked out her designs. The ground is laid in, and is, in many parts, beautifully varied. Nothing is wanting, but the ornamental part—the river, or the lake winding through the bottom, which lies in form to receive it—the hanging rocks, to adorn some shooting promontory—and the woody screens to incompass, and give richness to the whole.
Marlborough-down is one of those vast, dreary scenes, which our ancestors, in the dignity of a state of nature, chose as the repositories of their dead. Everywhere we see the tumuli, which were raised over their ashes; among which the largest is Silbury-hill. These structures have no date in the history of time; and will be, in all probability, among its most lasting monuments. Our ancestors had no ingenious arts to gratify their ambition; and as they could not aim at immortality through that channel, they endeavoured to obtain it by works of enormous labour. It was thus in other barbarous countries. Before the introduction of arts in Egypt, kings were immortalized by lying under pyramids.
As we passed, what are called, the ruins of Abury, we could not but admire the industry, and sagacity of those antiquarians, who can trace a regular plan in such a mass of confusion.
At the great inn at Marlborough, formerly a mansion of the Somerset-family, one of these tumuli stands in the garden, and is whimsically cut into a spiral walk; which, ascending imperceptibly, is lengthened into half a mile. The conceit at least gives an idea of the bulk of these massy fabrics.
From Marlborough the road takes a more agreeable appearance. Savemakeforest, through which it passes, is a pleasant, woody scene: and great part of the way afterwards is adorned with little groves, and opening glades, which form a variety of second distances on the right. But we seldom found a foreground to set them off to advantage.
The country soon degenerates into open cornlands: but near Hungerford, which is not an unpleasant town, it recovers a little spirit; and the road passes through dose, pleasant lanes; with breaks, here and there, into the country between the boles of the trees.
As we approached Newberry, we had a view of Donnington-castle; one of those scenes, where the unfortunate Charles reaped some glory. Nothing now remains of this gallant fortress, but a gateway, and two towers. The hill, on which it stands, is so overgrown with brush-wood, that we could scarce trace any vestiges either of the walls of the castle; or of the works, which had been thrown up against it.
This whole woody hill, and the ruins upon it, are now tenanted only by ghosts; which add much to the dignity of these forsaken habitations; and are, for that reason, of great use in description.
In Virgil’s days, when the Tarpeian rock was graced by the grandeur of the capitol, it was sufficiently enobled. But in its early state, when it was sylvestribus horrida dumis, it wanted something to give it splendor. The poet therefore has judiciously added a few ideas of the awful kind; and has contrived by this machinery to impress itwith more dignity in it’s rude state, than it possessed in its adorned one:
Jam tum religio pavidos terrebat agrestes
Of these imaginary beings the painter, in the mean time, makes little use. The introduction of them, instead of raising, would depreciate his subject. The characters indeed of Jupiter, Juno, and all that progeny, are rendered as familiar to us, through the antique, as those of Alexander, and Caesar. But the judicious artist will be cautious how he goes farther. The poetwill introduce a phantom of any kind without scruple. He knows his advantage. He speaks to the imagination; and if he deal only in general ideas, as all good poets on such subjects will do, every reader will form the phantom according to his own conception. But the painter, who speaks to the eye, has a more difficult work. He cannot deal in general terms: he is obliged to particularize: and it is not likely, that the spectator will have the same idea of a phantom, which he has.—The painter therefore acts prudently in abstaining, as much as possible, from the representation of fictitious beings.
The country about Newbery furnished little amusement. But if it is not picturesque, it is very historical.
In every historical country there are a set of ideas, which peculiarly belong to it. Hastings, and Tewksbury; Runnemede, and Clarendon, have all their associate ideas. The ruins of abbeys, and castles have another set: and it is a soothing amusement in travelling, to assimulate the mind to the ideas of the country. The ground we now trod, has many historical ideas associated with it; two great battles, a long siege, and the death of the gallant Lord Falkland.
The road from Newbery to Reading leads through lanes, from which a flat and woody country is exhibited on the right; and rising grounds on the left. Some unpleasant common fields intervene.
In the new road from Reading to Henly, the high grounds overlook a very picturesque distance on the right. The country indeed is flat; but this is a circumstance we do not dislike in a distance, when it contains a variety of wood and plain; and when the parts are large, and well-combined.
Henly lies pleasantly among woody hills: but the chalk, bursting every where from the soil, strikes the eye in spots; and injures the landscape.
From hence we struck again into the road across Hounslow-heath; having crouded much more within the space of a fortnight (to which our time was limited) than we ought to have done.
First published 1782.
Contributed by Robert Clark.