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CHAPTER XII.

MODERN MONKS.

According to Dr. Plot, Henley-upon-Thames is the oldest town in Oxfordshire; its very name denotes its antiquity: hen old, ley place. Whatever its age may be, it has nothing old in its look. It may in ancient times have had houses, and probably it had, but it has retained none of them. It has nought old now. But though there is no ground for Dr. Plot's conjecture, and no mention of the town till long after the Conquest, it is, doubtless, of considerable antiquity. In the earliest records of the corporation it is called Hanleganz and Hanneburg. In its history the only circumstance of note is that it was, in 1643, the scene of an engagement between the troops of Charles and those of the Parliament.

Henley is a neat town, with above four thousand inhabitants; and is pleasantly situated on ground that slopes up gently from the Thames. It has four good streets, at the intersection of which stand a plain cross and conduit. The houses are generally well-built; and there are several large inns, to which there was formerly a considerable posting trade attached, but that is almost destroyed by the railway; and the inns are now in a great measure dependent on the market, which is one of the largest corn-markets in England. In Camden's time the inhabitants were chiefly supported by carrying wood to London in barges, and bringing back corn: and the carrying to London of malt, meal, flour, and wood, is still one of the chief branches of employment.

The buildings are all modern, and of little importance, with the exception of the church, which is of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and is a large and respectable edifice, but no great beauty. A few eminent men have been buried in it. General Dumouriez, who played so prominent and brilliant a part in the outset of the French revolution, lies here. The latter part of his life was spent at Turville Park, a seat he possessed in the neighbourhood of Henley, where he died in March, 1823, at the age of eighty-three. In the churchyard is buried Richard Jennings, "the masterbuilder of St. Paul's Cathedral." Jennings lived in a mansion called Badgemore, close by Henley, which is now the seat of George Grote, Esq., the eminent banker, and author of the 'History of Greece.' The Thames is spanned at Henley by a handsome bridge of five arches, which was erected in 1787. It was built from the design of Mr. Hayward, a Shropshire architect, who died, however, before the building was begun. He had frequently expressed a desire to die before the completion of his bridge, that he might be buried under the centre arch of it, bnt the townsmen would not allow his wish to be complied with, and he lies in Henley church under a handsome monument which they raised to his memory.

The neighbourhood of Henley is very pleasant. The heights behind the town are full of undulations, and covered with groves of beeches, a tree that flourishes all about here, and with its deep sombre summer foliage and its glowing tints in autumn imparts great richness to the scenery. From Henley the river makes a sweep of three or four miles round the base of Remenham hill. The view from Henley bridge looking up this reach is very beautiful, and that in the other direction, along the part we have recently passed over, is no less so. As we advance our river opens fresh beauties at every little turn of its career, but we come to none that is equal to that under Park Place. Remenham and the following places on the Berkshire side are agreeable enough to wander along, but there is nothing about them that calls for particular notice, till we arrive at Aston, where is Culham Court, a well-built mansion, from the grounds of which the windings of the Thames through this part of its course are seen to great advantage, and extensive views are obtained of the wood crowned undulations of the Chiltern Hills. On the Buckinghamshire side—for we part from Oxfordshire at Henley—there are spots of more celebrity and of greater loveliness. Fawley Court is a large and handsome building, said—but I believe incorrectly —to have been built by Inigo Jones. With its grounds and the surrounding scenery it has a noble appearance from the river. The interior is said to be of a superior order, and to contain many things worthy of inspection. From the higher parts of the grounds the views are of the finest description; through breaks in the ridge of Berkshire hills that stretches from Wargrave to Cookham, the towers of Windsor loom out finely. The grounds are planted and laid out with great skill, and little has been neglected that might add to the natural beauty of the place. On an island in the river has been erected a " Grecian temple," which as it peeps out from the trees looks pretty enough. A little lower, on a point called Greenland, that projects into the river, are some remains of an earthwork. Greenland House, the seat of the DjOyleys, was the cause of one or two severe contests between the troops of Charles and of the Parliament. Here the Buckingham hills, which have been hitherto at a little distance from the river, come close down to it, but soon recede again. Hambledon is a neat rustic village, and the church is worth turning aside to look at. It is large and not inelegant, and contains some rather choice stained-glass windows and several curious monuments. The manor-house is of the time of James I.

Thus our river flows along a broad copious stream, making here frequent and bold windings, which stretch out before us, now glistening in the full light of the sun, and, anon, hidden by a knoll of rising ground, or only to be traced by a silvery streak between the stems of the clumps of trees beside it; while its banks are studded with dwellings on the lawns that slope gently from the waterside or embosomed among the woody uplands. Presently we see a little inn and ferry; and just beyond a pleasant peaceful-looking edifice, a quiet, cleanly, cloistered building, with a large, widespreading elm in front, and groups of trees sheltering it from the easterly and the south-western winds, and the Buckingham downs screening it from the northern blasts—its white front gladdened by the sunshine—a little rural monastic retreat nestled here in a comfortable warm spot, that seems as if it were still an abode of monks, and half tempts one to look steadily whether those be not Grey friars pacing: to and fro there under the cloisters. This snug little nest has held in its time monks of very different kinds, monks of the olden times—the miserable depraved dark ages; and modern monks, monks of that age of light and purity, the eighteenth century. The difference was very great between them. In the twelfth century, when Stephen was king, Walter de Bolbec founded a monastery of the Cistercian order at Woburn in Bedfordshire, and gave his lands and wealth to the endowment of it. Among other places which he gave was this manor, or part of it; and in 1200 the monks had grown strong enough to found a cell here for two or three of their number; building a pleasant little house beside the silver Thames, that they might have a plenty of fish for lent and fast days. The little cell, like many other of such places standing at a distance from a town, and out of a line of road, found little of external support; and so, for a century or two, existed in decent poverty—we may hope with honest contentment on the part of the brethren. As monks increased, and indeed swarmed over the land, these cells became poorer, and scarcely subsisted at all. When the day of reckoning arrived, many of them were in ruins, their inmates in deep poverty. This was not one of the worst of its kind, but it had worsened greatly. The commissioners appointed by Henry to inquire into the state of the smaller monasteries, found it to have monks two; servants none; debts none; woods none; moveable goods worth 1/. 3*. 8d., and the house wholly ruinous. The two poor monks, with a house keeping out neither wind nor rain,

VOL. I. 1

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