I saw thee, Netley, as the sun
Across the western wave
Was sinking slow,
And a golden glow
To thy roofless towers he gave;
And the ivy sheen,
With its mantle of green,
That wrapt thy walls around,
Shone lovelily bright
In that glorious light,
And I felt ’twas holy ground.
Then I thought of the ancient time —
The days of thy Monks of old, —
When to Matin and Vesper, and Compline chime,
The loud Hosanna roll’d,
And thy courts, and ‘long-drawn aisles’ among,
Swell’d the full tide of sacred song.
And then a Vision pass’d
Across my mental eye;1
And silver shrines, and shaven crowns,
And delicate Ladies, in bombazeen gowns,
And long white veils, went by;
Stiff, and staid, and solemn, and sad, —
— But one, methought, wink’d at the Gardener-lad!
Then came the Abbot, with mitre and ring,
And pastoral staff, and all that sort of thing,
And a Monk with a book, and a Monk with a bell,
And ‘dear little souls,’
In clean linen stoles,
Swinging their censers, and making a smell. —
And see where the Choir-master walks in the rear,
With front severe,
And brow austere,
Now and then pinching a little boy’s ear
When he chaunts the responses too late, or too soon,
Or his Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La’s not quite in tune.
(Then you know,
They’d a ‘moveable Do,’
Not a fix’d one as now — and of course never knew
How to set up a musical Hullah-baloo.)
It was, in sooth, a comely sight,
And I welcom’d the vision with pure delight.
But then ‘a change came o’er’
My spirit — a change of fear —
That gorgeous scene I beheld no more,
But deep beneath the basement floor
A dungeon dark and drear!
And there was an ugly hole in the wall —
For an oven too big, — for a cellar too small!
And mortar and bricks
All ready to fix,
And I said, ‘Here’s a Nun has been playing some tricks! —
That horrible hole! — it seems to say,
‘I’m a grave that gapes for a living prey!”
And my heart grew sick, and my brow grew sad —
And I thought of that wink at the Gardener-lad.
Ah me! ah me! — ’tis sad to think
That Maiden’s eye, which was made to wink,
Should here be compell’d to grow blear, and blink,
Or be closed for aye
In this kind of way,
Shut out for ever from wholesome day,
Wall’d up in a hole with never a chink,
No light, — no air, — no victuals, — no drink! —
And that Maiden’s lip,
Which was made to sip,
Should here grow wither’d and dry as a chip!
— That wandering glance and furtive kiss,
Exceedingly naughty, and wrong, I wis,
Should yet be consider’d so much amiss
As to call for a sentence severe as this! —
And I said to myself, as I heard with a sigh,
The poor lone victim’s stifled cry,2
‘Well, I can’t understand
How any man’s hand
Could wall up that hole in a Christian land!
Why a Mussulman Turk Would recoil from the work
And though, when his Ladies run after the fellows, he
Stands not on trifles, if madden’d by jealousy,
Its objects, I’m sure, would declare, could they speak,
In their Georgian, Circassian, or Turkish, or Greek,
‘When all’s said and done, far better it was for us,
Tied back to back,
And sewn up in a sack,
To be pitch’d neck-and-heels from a boat in the Bosphorus!’
— Oh! a Saint ‘twould vex
To think that the sex
Should be treated no better than Combe’s double X!
Sure some one might run to the Abbess, and tell her
A much better method of stocking her cellar.’
If ever on polluted walls
Heaven’s red right arm in vengeance falls, —
If e’er its justice wraps in flame
The black abodes of sin and shame,
That justice, in its own good time,
Shall visit for so foul a crime,
Ope desolation’s floodgate wide,
And blast thee, Netley, in thy pride!
Lo where it comes! — the tempest lours, —
It bursts on thy devoted towers;
Ruthless Tudor’s bloated form
Rides on the blast, and guides the storm;
I hear the sacrilegious cry,
‘Down with the nests, and the rooks will fly!’
Down! down they come — a fearful fall —
Arch, and pillar, and roof-tree, and all,
Stained pane, and sculptured stone,
There they lie on the greensward strown —
Mouldering walls remain alone!
Mitre, and Crozier, and all are flown!
And yet, fair Netley, as I gaze
Upon that grey and mouldering wall,
The glories of thy palmy days
Its very stones recall! —
They ‘come like shadows, so depart’ —
I see thee as thou wert — and art —
Sublime in ruin! — grand in woe!
Lone refuge of the owl and bat;
No voice awakes thine echoes now!
No sound — Good Gracious! — what was that?
Was it the moan,
The parting groan
Of her who died forlorn and alone,
Embedded in mortar, and bricks, and stone? —
Full and clear On my listening ear
It comes — again — near, and more near —
Why ‘zooks! it’s the popping of Ginger Beer!
— I rush’d to the door — I tread the floor,
By Abbots and Abbesses trodden before,
In the good old chivalric days of yore,
And what see I there? — In a rush-bottom’d chair
A hag, surrounded by crockery-ware,
Vending, in cups, to the credulous throng,
A nasty decoction miscall’d Souchong, —
And a squeaking fiddle and ‘wry-neck’d fife’
Are screeching away, for the life! — for the life! —
Danced to by ‘All the World and his Wife.’
Tag, Rag, and Bobtail, are capering there,
Worse scene, I ween, than Bartlemy Fair! —
Two or three Chimney-sweeps, two or three Clowns,
Playing at ‘pitch and toss,’ sport their ‘Browns,’
Two or three damsels, frank and free,
Are ogling, and smiling, and sipping Bohea.
Parties below, and parties above,
Some making tea, and some making love.
Then the ‘toot — toot — toot’
Of that vile demi-flute, —
The detestable din Of that crack’d violin,
And the odours of ‘Stout,’ and tobacco, and gin.
‘ — Dear me!’ I exclaim’d, ‘what a place to be in!’
And I said to the person who drove my ‘shay,’
(A very intelligent man, by the way,)
‘This, all things consider’d, is rather too gay!
It don’t suit my humour, — so take me away!
Dancing! and drinking! — cigar and song!
If not profanation, it’s ‘coming it strong,’
And I really consider it all very wrong. —
— Pray, to whom does this property now belong?’
— He paused, and said,
Scratching his head,
‘Why I really do think he’s a little to blame,
But I can’t say I knows the Gentleman’s name!’
‘Well — well!’ quoth I,
As I heaved a sigh,
And a tear-drop fell from my twinkling eye,
‘My vastly good man, as I scarcely doubt
That some day or other you’ll find it out,
Should he come in your way,
Or ride in your ‘shay,’
(As perhaps he may,)
Be so good as to say
That a Visitor, whom you drove over one day,
Was exceedingly angry, and very much scandalized,
Finding these beautiful ruins so Vandalized,
And thus of their owner to speak began,
As he order’d you home in haste,
“NO DOUBT HE’S A VERY RESPECTABLE MAN,
But — I can’t say much for his taste.”’3
1 In my mind’s eye, Horatio! — Hamlet.
2 About the middle of the last century a human skeleton was discovered in a recess in the wall among the ruins of Netley. On examination the bones were pronounced to be those of a female. Teste James Harrison, a youthful but intelligent cab-driver of Southampton, who ‘well remembers to have heard his grandmother say that “Somebody told her so.”’
3 Adieu, Monsieur Gil Blas: je vous souhaite toutes sortes de prospérités, avec un peu plus de goût! — Gil Blas.
My very excellent brother-in-law, Seaforth, late of the Bombay Fencibles, (lucky dog to have quitted the service before this shocking Afghan business!) seems to have been even more forcibly affected on the evening when he so narrowly escaped being locked in at Westminster Abbey, and when — but let him describe his own feelings, as he has done, indeed, in the subjoined
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10