T. ALI3AN'S ABBEY, HATFIELD, AND PANSANGER.
A TWOFOLD curiosity, to see once more that noble pile of Eliza- bethan architecture Hatfield House, and the fine pictures it con- tains, and to view St. Alban's Abbey since it has been restored, led us to visit this part of Hertfordshire the other day. It is a fine, open, corn country, prettily wooded; and the golden stubble- fields, burnished with a bright sun, made a splendid setting for the rich, deep, emerald green of the foliage, fresh and sparkling after a welcome shower.
The low square tower of the old Abbey Church of St. Alban's, crowning the long length of its elevation, bore no traces of recent renovation, as it stood up in bold relief against the almost cloud- less blue of a serene and glowing evening. Excepting the great Western window, which is now and as yet incomplete, and one or two windows of the chancel, the exterior looked as gray aml venerable as ever ; for the Ladye Chapel, whose exterior has been completely renovated (these Lady° Chapels seem pet favourite% with the restorers), is not visible till a near approach; and the mullions of the new window of the south transept have been speckled to harmonize with the weather-stains of the old stone- work. Restoring is a needful task ; but the work of the mason's chisel is harsh and crude beside the crumbling touch of time— one can't think of an old abbey as having been new. The glazing of the range of upper windows, which Mr. COTTINGHAM unbricked, in the nave, relieves the monotonous aspect of its long, blank, brick wall, unbroken by buttress or pinnacle, and gives com- pleteness to the design. The effect of this restoration is still more strikingly evident in the interior ; the: flood of light thus let in giving air and spaciousness to the lofty and elegant proportions of the clustered columns and Gothic arches, and bringing out the rich decorations of the upper range of arches.
On approaching the choir up the nave from the west door, the character of the architecture becomes changed from Gothic to Saxon,—in which style this the central and oldest part of the church is erected. The tower is supported on four plain round- headed arches springing from massive square pillars. The new window in the south transept is tastefully enriched by the shields, emblazoned in the old fashion of stained glass, of the King and the principal promoters of the restoration of the building. The ceiling of the tower has been painted on wood, to correspond with that of the nave. The superb altar-screen was lighted up by the rays of the setting sun, showing to beautiful advantage the rich fretwork of its numerous canopied niches. The carving of this and the less magnificent screen that divides the choir from the nave, and the enrichments of the tombs on each side of the altar, are of the most exquisite kind, and mostly in fine preservation. It is curious to observe bow the quaint and grotesque fancies of the ornaments are subdued to what may be termed a classic ele- gance of arrangement in the general effect. It only wanted a stained glass window to fling etherial hues, like "atoms of the rainbow," over its encrusted surface, and give appropriate splen- dour to the "dim religious light." We lingered in the dim and silent aisles—the very stillness seeming to breed a stir—anti prowled round its venerable walls till evening closed; fancying every now and then the shadowy form of one of the old monks threading his perilous way along the narrow, open passages lend- ing along the upper range of arches or creeping noiselessly under the cloister beneath.
A pleasant ride of a few miles next morning, along a by-road, brought within sight the turrets and spires of Hatfield House which called up a host of old recollections. It had the same air of antiquity, heightened by the association of the proud names of its former possessors, and the treasures of art within ; but it seemed to have lost some of its former grandeur in our eyes, from a sense of the insignificance of its present owner. A man whose soul might live in a mousetrap may lodge in the corner of a palace; but he makes it appear but a gorgeous vacuity, and less noble than if it were altogether untenanted. The last time we saw it, was in the lifetime of the old lord, who was a "fine old English gentleman," and looked up to as a sort of state-father by his tenants. We cared not what were his politics, nor if he were a Burl eigh or a Polon:* us ; his white head looked respectable under his coronet. He was blessed by the poor and honoured by the rich. At any rate, he was never hooted and pelted with red her- rings through the county-town. We would fain have put the difference out of mind by a sight of the noble hall, with its an- tique staircase and gallery, and the fine portraits of the BUIP' LE1GHS and CECILS of old; but we were made still more sensible of the change, by the intelligence that neither the house nor the grounds were to be seen. The family had arrived—there were visiters—some improvements were making which were not com- pleted—somebody was said to have stolen something—in short, the pictures were not visible ; but there was a footpath (a right of way) across the park. Time was when the grounds were free to all; when there was a day's coursing once a week during the season for the neighbouring gentry and farmers in the park,— the sport being heightenefl by the picturesque appearance of the mansion from different points of view. The last time that we save the pictures here, the table was laid for luncheon in the eating-room, and books and flowers scattered on the table of the morning-. rooms denoted that their occupants had recently left them;. so that the family being there, used not to be a bar to the gratilica- tion of strangers. Sed tempora mutantur. The house had not been shown for more than twelvemonths past. To console ourselves for the disappointment, we went on to Pansanger, the seat of the liberal Earl COWPER. What a con- trast! A part of the family were down here, too ; but the pic- ture-gallery was freely thrown open to our little party : nay, more, the amiable Lady ASHLEY voluntarily afforded us the unexpected gratification of seeing the pictures in the suite of more private apartments, by quitting them, though in a weak state of health,— a favour that it almost gave pain to accept, and which would have been as gratefully declined as it was received, had the alternative
been offeied. Proud and happ very noble-minded possessor of works of art must be to let others share the enjoyment of them, the continual influx of visiters—a large proportion consist- ing of the merely curious vulgar—Must be occasionally a source of annoyance, even if no mischief be done; and, speaking for our- selves, we may add, the apprehension of intrusion, though per- mitted, is a drawback to the pleasure of these delightful peeps at the creations of genius. In the picture-gallery at Pansanger, however, we were made to feel at home, by the assurance that none of the family would be in that part of the house during the rest of the day.
The picture-gallery, occupying one wing of this elegant Gothic villa, has been recently erected. It is a sumptuous Grecian saloon, of noble proportions, and lighted from the roof; so that the pic- tures are seen to proper advantage. The coup dwil on first enter- ing, after passing through the cool chaste Gothic hall, was like a burst of sunshine. The gorgeous hues of the deep-toned pictures were harmonized and enriched by the crimson ground of the walls on which they were hung. Standing in the vestibule to satiate the sense with the glowing splendour, the eye took in four choice portraits by ANDREA. DEL SARTO ; which, for identity of character and powerful execution, combining careful drawing and elaborate finish with rich colouring, cannot be surpassed. Two of them are likenesses of the painter himself; one representing him a pale, melancholy, meek-eyed youth; the other showing him in ripe manhood, with the same sweet sensitive face matured to a contemplative gravity, expressive of intellectual refinement. The lineaments of the face are delineated with the exquisite delicacy of DA VINCI, yet the general effect is as forcible as in the boldest limnings of TITIAN or GIORGIONE. The face seems to breathe. A third is the portrait of an Italian lady, with a point-blank look. And the fourth, as real a head as ever lived immortally upon can- vas, is the portrait of a man with a quiet look of intelligence, slightly leaning to one side, as if in momentary contemplation of some object. His round black cap, and plain dark kirtle with gigot sleeves, increase the verisimilitude of the pictorial impersona- tion; the face, air, and dress, all partaking of a quaint individuality. These homely, sober, unassuming works— where the painter evinces no consciousness of his power—rank among the greatest triumphs of art. A Virgin and Child (the heads only) by COR- REGIO, exemplify the happy union of his grand style of draw- ing with his elaborate execution and power of colouring. The ineffable sweetness of the Virgin's face, as with downcast eyes, a smile of pleasure on her lips, and a glow of maternal modesty and health on her cheek, she regards with a look of tender affection the holy infant, is one of his masterpieces of expression. The charming innocence and unconscious loveliness of a Virgin, by RAPHAEL, in his early manner, at the end of the gallery, like the other heads we have described, left a lasting impression, as of a living face.
A violent thunder-storm opportunely coming on while we were in the gallery, our party was kindly permitted to remain in this glorious shelter for an hour or two; during which time we gazed our fill of the pictures around. It would be tedious and unsatis- factory to enumerate them all; but we must mention particularly a very fine Veenvee-looking portrait, as powerfully painted, but in a lower tone than VANDYKE, described in the MS. catalogue as the work of Nicole) Poussier. It is additionally valuable as a rarity of art, if it be from his hand. There are also some fine landscapes ; a GASPAR Poussiee a Claude-like composition by WILSON; and two large landscapes by SALYATOR ROSA,—one of them a sea-piece, by the way, and looking a little like VERNET; and both very different from a choice little bit of wild, rocky scenery in his own proper style, at the end of the gallery. A bust of Lady Ashley received the homage of our admiration ; which was divided between the skill of the sculptor—Al/woo- lame if we remember rightly—and the character of the fair ori- ginal. The pictures in the other apartments—one of which (the library) was perfumed by the scent from two blossoms of the magnolia—were chiefly family portraits; amongst which, the pleasant face of the present Earl, and the venerable head of his father, by JACKSON, were the most interesting. Fox, with his open face of bonhommie, made the acerbity of BURKei visage look more bitter by its juxtaposition. Among the older portraits, a whole-length of a knight in black half-armour leaning on his partisan, in an attitude and with a look of profound musing, dashed with sadness, struck us as possessing an interest beyond an ordinary portrait, though the light was not favourable to a full sight of the face.
The park is delightfully varied with hill and dale; a trout stream meanders its silver thread through the valley, and the high grounds are skirted by a waving border of plantations. That by which the house is approached from the back is inter- sected by a winding-path, with here and there an opening, giving a picturesque view of the grounds. The scene both within and without looked the more beautiful from its association with the character of its possessor—so charm- ing are liberality and courtesy !