« VorigeDoorgaan »
side of the road stands a piece of freestone, as a sort of sample, to show how very large some of them are brought from the quarries. It measures in height twelve feet, and three in breadth. A few steps farther, and the traveller experiences the pleasing sensation of treading upon classical British ground: A SPOT, that must ever prove dear to the lovers of literature, when it is remembered, that it was here the inimitable FIELDING produced his TOM JONES, (that standard of novels in the English language ;) and to which may be added, several literary works were also written by that most powerful enlightened scholar and wit Bishop WARBURTON. With these recollections, PRIOR-ParkHOUSE becomes of the most interesting nature; and it cannot be viewed merely for its delightful situation, beautiful grounds, and distinguished architecture; nor passed over with the common routine of a gentleman's estate. From the vir tues of its once liberal-minded proprietor, and the extraordinary talents of its inmates, such as POPE, FIELDING, and WARBURTON, it possesses far more sterling claims to respect and admiration.
PRIOR-PARK-HOUSE is so called from the circumstance of its having been built on land which formerly belonged to the prior of Bath, who had a grange, or farm, at a short distance from it, and a park that supplied the monastery with venison. It was erected by the celebrated Ralph Allen, Esq. in 1743, on a slope of land 100 feet below the summit of Coomb-Down, and 400 above the City of Bath; and is certainly one of the most magnificent freestone mansions,
with respect to its outside, in the kingdom, A noble house forms the centre; from the extremities of which stretch two sweeping arcades, connecting with the main body, as many wings of offices, terminated by elegant pavilions, and forming a continued line of building of nearly 1300 feet in front. The style is Corinthian, raised on a rustic basement, and surmounted by a balustrade. From the plane of the centre part an extremely-grand portico projects, supported by six large and elegant columns. But all the majesty of the building is without. Within, every thing (if we except the Chapel, which is neat and elegant, and adorned with an altar-piece, by Van Deest) is little, dark, and inconvenient; and seldom has so much money been so injudiciously applied, as the enormous sum expended in the comfortless Palace of Prior-Park. Fielding laid the scene of the early years of Tom Jones at this place, and has, also, in his work, given a picture of the beautiful situation of Mr. Allen's house, the Allworthy of his novel. Making allowances for the fancy of an author, in an imaginary river, sea, distant island, and ruined abbey, the description is tolerably correct; at least, many of its most agreeable features are real. From the novel, it appears, "the house stood on the south-east side of a hill, but nearer the bottom than the top of it, so as to be sheltered from the northeast by a grove of old oaks, which rose above it, in a gradual ascent of nearly half a mile, and yet high enough to enjoy a most charming prospect of the valley beneath. In the midst of the grove was a vine - lawn, sloping towards
the house, near the summit of which rose a plentiful spring, gushing out of a rock, covered with firs, and forming a constant cascade of about thirty feet, not carried down a regular flight of steps, but tumbling in a natural fall over the broken and mossy stones, till it camé to the bottom of the rock; then running off in a pebbly channel, that with many lesser falls winding along, till it fell into a lake at the foot of a hill, about a quarter of a mile below the house, on the south side, and which was seen from every room in the front. Out of this lake, which filled the centre of a beautiful plain, embellished with groupes of beeches and elms, and fed with sheep, issued a river, that for several miles was seen to meander through an amazing variety of meadows and woods, till it emptied itself into the sea, with a large arm of which, and an island beyond it, the prospect closed. On the right of this valley opened another of less extent, adorned with several villages, and terminated by one of the towers of an old ruined abbey, grown over with ivy, and part of the front which still remained entire. The left scene presented the view of a fine park, composed of very unequal ground, and agreeably varied with all the diversity that hills, lawn, wood, and water, laid out with admirable taste, but owing less to art than to nature, could give. Beyond this the country gradually rose into a ridge of wild mountains, the tops of which were above the clouds." He has omitted, however, the splendid Palladian bridge at the bottom of the pleasure-grounds: and the striking view of Bath caught beyond this structure,
which before the additions to the city, made within these last forty years, must have formed a very interesting feature in the prospect. The character which Fielding has given us of his patron is of so exalted a nature, that we should be tempted to believe the anticipation of the rich remuneration he received for his eulogium, £500, had made him paint "beyond the reach of nature," did not general report, and local tradition, confirm the account of the novelist to its fullest extent;* and united in assuring us, that
It may, perhaps, be not unworthy of observation, that it is rather singular no designation of person has been pointed out amongst the biographers of FIELDING and ALLEN; or, in the numerous" Guides" published in Bath, whereby any clue might be obtained towards satisfactorily ascertaining the real character of 'Squire Western. The Allworthy, of Joм JONES, is admitted, on all hands, to have been the late benevolent RALPH ALLEN, Esq. It is true, that in respect of amiability of disposition, no comparison exists between those two personages; but, nevertheless, 'Squire Western is drawn with so much strength-it abounds with so many real touches of nature-the huntsman (or prevailing passion) preponderates throughout every movement of his life, and yet the fine traits of the parent are preserved with so much fidelity, that it is scarcely possible to suppose an entire imaginary portrait could have proved so complete in all its bearings-neither distorted upon the one side, so as to outrage probability, or proving tamely deficient on the other, as to evince a false conception, without some ORIGINAL being near at hand, of whom a perfect likeness might at length be procured from the advantages of various sittings. It is, however, urged, that 'Squire Western (that is to say, a gentleman huntsman, and much addicted to the sports of the field) was, in reality, a near neighbour of Mr. Allen, who had a daughter "passing fair;" and that this young lady did marry a foundling," who became possessed, by such marriage, of two joining estates. The authority, perhaps, at this period, may be considered as rather questionable.