Twickenham – Great Britain And Ireland

It seems that Pope did not purchase the freehold of the house and grounds at Twickenham, but only a long lease. He took his father and mother along with him. His father died there the year after, but his mother continued to live till 1733, when she died at the great age of ninety-three. For twenty years she had the singular satisfaction of seeing her son the first poet of his age; carest by the greatest men of the time, courted by princes, and feared by all the base. No parents ever found a more tender and dutiful son. With him they shared in honor the ease and distinction he had acquired. They were the cherished objects of his home. Swift paid him no false compliment when he said, in condoling with him on his mother’s death, “You are the most dutiful son I have ever known or heard of, which is a felicity not happening to one in a million.”

The property at Twickenham is properly described by Roscoe as lying on both sides of the highway, rendering it necessary for him to cross the road to arrive at the higher and more ornamental part of his gardens. In order to obviate this inconvenience, he had recourse to the expedient of excavating a passage under the road from one part of his grounds to the other, a fact to which he alludes in these lines :

“Snow all the toil the heavy world can heap, Rolls o’er my grotto, nor disturbs my sleep.”

The lower part of these grounds, in which his house stood, constituted, in fact, only the sloping bank of the river, by much the smaller portion of his territory. The passage, there-fore, was very necessary to that far greater part, which was his wilderness, shrubbery, forest, and every thing, where he chiefly planted and worked. This passage he formed into a grotto, having a front of rude stonework opposite to the river and decorated within with spars, ores, and shells. Of this place he has himself left this description :

“I have put the last hand to my works of this kind, in happily finishing the subterranean way and grotto. I found there a spring of the clearest water, which falls in a perpetual rill, that echoes through the cavern night and day. From the River Thames you see through my arch, up a walk of the wilderness, to a kind of open temple wholly composed of shells in the rustic manner; and from that distance under the temple you look down through a sleeping arcade of trees, and see the sails on the river passing suddenly and vanishing, as through a perspective glass. When you shut the door of this grotto, it becomes, on the instant, from a luminous room, a camera obscura, on the walls of which all the objects of the river, hills, woods, and boats are forming a moving picture, in their visible radiations; and when you have a mind to light it less, it affords you a very different scene. It is finished with shells, interspersed with looking-glass in regular forms, and in the ceiling is a star of the same material, at which, when a lamp of an orbicular figure of thin alabaster is hung in the middle, a thousand pointed rays glitter, and are reflected over the place. There are connected to this grotto, by a narrow passage, two porches, one toward the river, of smooth stones full of light and open; the other toward the garden, shadowed with trees, rough with shells, flints, and iron ore. The bottom is paved with simple pebbles, as is also the adjoining walk up the wilderness to the temple, in the natural state, agreeing not ill with the little dripping murmur, and the aquatic idea of the whole place. It wants nothing to complete it but a good statue with an inscription, like that beautiful antique one which you know I am so fond of. You will think I have been very poetical in this description; but it is pretty near the truth.”

But it was not merely in forming this grotto that Pope employed himself; it was in building and extending his house, which was in a Roman style, with columns, arcades, and porticos. The designs and elevations of these buildings may be seen by his own hand in the British Museum, drawn in his usual way on backs of letters. The following pas-sage, in a letter to Mr. Digby, will be sufficient to give us his idea of both his Thamesward garden and his house in a summer view : “No ideas you could form in the winter could make you imagine what Twickenham is in this warm summer. Our river glitters beneath the unclouded sun, at the same time that its banks retain the verdure of showers; our gardens are offering their first nosegays; our trees, like new acquaintance brought happily together, are stretching their arms to meet each other, and growing nearer and nearer every hour. The birds are paying their thanksgiving songs for the new habitations I have made them. My building rises high enough to attract the eye and curiosity of the passenger from the river, where, upon beholding a mixture of beauty and ruin, he inquires, `What house is falling, or what church is arising?’ So little taste have our common Tritons for Vitruvius; whatever delight the poetical gods of the river may take in reflecting on their streams, my Tuscan porticos, or Ionic pilasters.”

Pope’s architecture, like his poetry, has been the subject of much and vehement dispute. On the one hand, his grottos and his buildings have been vituperated as most tasteless and childish; on the other, applauded as beautiful and romantic. Into neither of these disputes need we enter. In both poetry and architecture a bolder spirit and a better taste have prevailed since Pope’s time. With all his foibles and defects, Pope was a great poet of the critical and didactic kind, and his house and place had their peculiar beauties. He was him-self half inclined to suspect the correctness of his fancy in such matters, and often rallies himself on his gimcracks and crotchets in both verse and prose.

Pope’s building madness, however, had method in it. Unlike the great romancer and builder of our time,* he never allowed such things to bring him into debt. He kept his mind at ease by such prudence, and soothed and animated it under circumstances of continued evil by working among his trees, and grottos, and vines, and at his labors of poetry and translations. At the period succeeding the rebellion of 1715, when that event had implicated and scattered so many of his highest and most powerful friends, here he was laboring away at his “Homer” with a progress which astonished every one. Removed at once from the dissipations and distractions of London, and from the agreeable interruptions of such society, he found leisure and health enough here to give him vigor for exertions astonishing for so weak a frame. The tastes he indulged here, if they were not faultless according to our notions, were healthy, and they endured. To the end of his life he preserved his strong attachment to his house and grounds.