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Thousands of persons, in the surrounding populous towns and districts, are altogether ignorant of the beauties of this fairy land. Doubtless, there are in England finer ruins than the castle, and mountains and hills far more commanding than the eminence on which it stands; but I hardly know, if I wished to gaze on a scene at once retired, sweet, wild, and varied, where I could find one more adapted to my purpose than the arresting rift, the deep and romantic ravine, I have just explored; and to which, before I quit the grounds, I purpose again to return.
The crag, the cavern, and the shaven green,
The ruined castle, beckons me away.
There is in the mere remains of a strongbuilt castle, enough to press on our attention the change to which earthly things are liable; but when, in addition to the desolation effected by time, customs and objects incongruous with the princely pile have sprung up around it, this change becomes the more apparent. Little did the early occupants of this proud fortress imagine that the adjacent country would ever display its present appearance. The avocations of common life have trespassed on the precincts of
the castle, approaching, nay, entering its gates, bearding its greatness, and undermining the very rock on which it is erected. What would Dodo the Saxon have said, who founded these embattled walls more than a thousand years ago, if, on entering the castle gate, armed at all points, at the head of his bold retainers, he had been told that a town would be erected within bowshot of his strongest tower? What would earl Edwin, or William the Conqueror, or William Fitzausculph, or the Henries and Edwards of England, have thought, had it been whispered in their ears, that the time would arrive when the turrets of this once goodly keep would be in ruin, the halls empty, the court-yard grown with grass, the adjacent lands cut up with canals and coal-pits, and the whole surrounding country covered with fiery furnaces and smoking chimneys?
An hour ago, I entered the gate, slowly pacing the winding pathway, ascending to the warder's tower, and the keep, or donjon, which is thought to be one of the oldest erections in England, having stood for more than a thousand years. Mounting the turret steps, I gazed through the winding loopholes at the world below. I wanted some courtly seneschal to marshal me my road; some stalwart, bold retainer,
harnessed in iron, to stretch out his mailed hand, pointing to the things most worthy my regard; but I was alone, and alone I now remain, though to my glowing imagination my pathway seems peopled with the forms of other days. These solitary courts seem crowded, and these voiceless walls are garrulous; banners are waving; fair dames, in rustling silks, are seated on prancing palfreys; and knights in chain and plate armour, on their broad-breasted war-horses, come trooping on; the banquet is preparing, and lord, knight, seneschal, and serving-man are fully occupied.
The castle has now but the remains of its former appearance; and, perhaps, the visitor is more impressed by what it is not, than by what it is. Glowing with goodly desires and overwrought expectations of what a castle ought to be, many a stranger gazes on the little that is left of the ancient fortress with disappointment. "And is this all!" is an ejaculation that rises in his mind; but gradually another emotion possesses him. "If this be all of the strong roofs and walls that once bade defiance to time, what earthly power shall stand! If solid walls like these thus crumble, how short a time the feeble frame of man will endure! Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days,
what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity,'" Psa. xxxix. 4, 5.
History tells us, that about the year 700, a Saxon lord, by name Dodo, or Dudo, founded the castle; that earl Edwin, its possessor at the time of the Conquest, quitted it at the command of the Conqueror, that it might be tenanted by William Fitzausculph. In the possession of the family of Fitzausculph it remained during the reigns of the Henries and the Edwards, until, in the time of Edward III., it came into the hands of the Dudley family. Its owners were not free from trouble during the reigns of the Tudors, and in the time of the Commonwealth it underwent a regular siege; dismantled and ruined by the parliamentary army, it never again lifted up its head so proudly as heretofore; for, though it was in a measure rebuilt, it assumed more the appearance of a tenement than that of an embattled fortress. Nearly a century ago, it was destroyed by fire, since which time, though its approaches and grounds have been improved and beautified, its ruins have been left a monument of the frailty of the most substantial of earthly things.
If massy tower, and thick and solid wall,
The lady Godiva, wife of Leoffric, earl of Coventry, once lived here, a pattern of kindheartedness and charity. I cannot pace these grass-covered courts, nor gaze on the ruined keep and mouldering fragments of turrets, halls, and chambers, without emotion, for I have seen them in my earlier years alone, and when attended with others, and past scenes are rising around me. Every crumbling door-way, every dilapidated wall and window, was once familiar
I well remember the buoyancy of heart with which I made my first visit to the place. On inquiring at the gate who were in the walks, I learned that two ladies, whose names were mentioned, were the only visitors. After walking some time in the grounds, two females appeared in the distance, when, with a cheerful spirit, I threw myself in their path. No sooner did we meet, than I respectfully accosted them. "Will Miss and Miss repeating their names, "be kind enough to direct a stranger to the most interesting part of the castle-walks?"
The ladies, with about an equal degree of