It was a pleasure quite equal to my anticipation to visit Chatsworth for the first time, after a sojourn in England, off and on, for six-teen years. It is the lion number three, according to the American ranking of the historical edifices and localities of England. Stratford-upon-Avon, Westminster Abbey and Chatsworth are the three representative celebrities which our travelers think they must visit if they would see the life of England’s ages from the best stand-points. And this is the order in which they rank them. Chatsworth and Haddon Hall should be seen the same day if possible; so that you may carry the impression of the one fresh and active into the other. They are the two most representative buildings in the kingdom. Haddon is old English feudalism edificed. It represents the rough grandeur, hospitality, wassail and rude romance of the English nobility five hundred years ago. It was all in its glory about the time when Thomas-h-Becket, the Magnificent, used to entertain great companies of belted knights of the realm in a manner that exceeded regal munificence in those dayseven directing fresh straw to be laid for them on his ample mansion floor, that they might not soil the bravery of their dresses when they bunked down for the night. The building is brimful of the character and history of that period. Indeed, there are no two milestones of English history so near together, and yet measuring such a space of the nation’s life and manners between them, as this hall and that of Chatsworth.
It was built, of course, in the bow and arrow times, when the sun had to use the same missiles in shooting its barbed rays into the narrow apertures of old castlesor the stone coffins of fear-hunted knights and ladies, as they might be called. What a monument this to the dispositions and habits of the world, outside and inside of that early time ! Here is the porter’s or warder’s lodge just inside the huge gate. To think of a living being with a human soul in him burrowing in such a place !a big, black sarcophagus without a lid to it, set deep in the solid wall. Then there is the chapel. Compare it with that of Chatsworth, and you may count almost on your fingers the centuries that have intervened between them. It was new-roofed soon after the discovery of America, and, perhaps, done up to some show of decency and comfort. But how small and rude the pulpit and pews-looking like rough-boarded potato-bins ! Here is the great banquet-hall, full to overflowing with the tracks and cross-tracks of that wild, strange life of old. There is a fireplace for you, and the mark in the chimney-back of five hundred Christmas logs. Doubtless this great stone pavement of a floor was carpeted with straw at banquets, after the illustrious Becket’s pattern.
Here is a memento of the feast hanging up at the top of the kitchenward doora pair of roughly-forged, rusty handcuffs amalgamated into one pair of jaws, like a muskrat trap.
What was the use of that thing, conductor, “That sir, they put the ‘ands in of them as shirked and didn’t drink up all the wine as was poured into their cups, and there they made them stand on tiptoe up against that door, sir, before all the company, sir, until they was ashamed of theirselves.” Descend into the kitchen, all scarred with the tremendous cookery of ages. Here they roasted bullocks whole, and just back in that dark vault with a slit or two in it for the light, they killed and drest them. There are relics of the shambles, and here is the great form on which they cut them up into manageable pieces. It would do you good, you Young America, to see that form, and the cross-gashes of the meat ax in it. It is the half of a gigantic English oak; which was growing in Julius Caesar’s time, sawed through lengthwise, making a top surface several feet wide, black and smooth as ebony. Some of the bark still clings to the under side. The dancing-hall is the great room of the building. All that the taste, art and wealth of that day could do, was done to make it a splendid apartment, and it would pass muster still as a comfortable and respectable salon. As we pass out, you may decipher the short prayer cut in the wasting stone over a side portal, “God Save the Vernons.” I hope this prayer has been favorably answered; for history records much virtue in the family, mingled with some romantic escapades, which have contributed, I believe, to the entertainment of many novel readers.
Just what Haddon Hall is to the baronial life and society of England five hundred years ago, is Chatsworth to the full stature of modern civilization and aristocratic wealth, taste and position. Of this it is probably the best measure and representative in the kingdom; and as such it possesses a special value and interest to the world at large. Were it not for here and there such an establishment, we should lack way-marks in the progress of the arts, sciences and tastes of advancing civilization.