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We have now reached a part of our river where the scenery is of the loveliest and most rememberable character. The four miles between Cookham bridge and Maidenhead are unquestionably superior to any we have yet passed over, and, in their way, are hardly surpassed by any in England. The scenery of the Thames has here attained its highest in the scale of beauty. Other places there are along its banks which are visited oftener, and with more interest, but they owe much of their charm to the associations connected with them or the edifices that adorn them, while this has little beside its natural beauty to depend on.
Along these four miles the river flows in easy windings, having broad meadows on the right, and on the left lofty hanging woods. Before we stroll along them, we must, however, visit the villages on each side of our starting-place.
Cookham is an extensive parish,'embracing hill and dale, heath and meadow, with houses scattered widely about. The inhabitants are chiefly employed in agriculture, but there are many dwellings of a superior class. The church stands at the foot of the bridge, and has a pleasing appearance from the river. The houses which compose the village are at a little distance from both church and river. A wooden bridge was about five years ago erected over the Thames at Cookham to connect the road from Maidenhead to Wycombe, which was previously connected by a ferry. No doubt the bridge is of service for the traffic between these towns, and has been beneficial to the villages to which it affords an easier approach, but it has added nothing to the beauty of the river, and has spoilt a very picturesque view of the village. The village of Hedsor has nothing notable about it, except that it affords many fine views and pleasant walks. In the churchyard lie the remains of Nathanael Hooke, the author of the 'Roman History.' Hedsor Lodge, the seat of Lord Boston, is celebrated for the beauty of the grounds, which, though inferior to Cliefden, and perhaps to Taplow, are deserving of all their fame. They are greatly broken in surface, well-wooded, and command prospects up the Thames and across the Buckingham hills, of vast extent and richness.
Near Hedsor the Thames receives a pretty little tributary called the Wick, which rises near West Wycombe, passes High Wycombe and Woburn, and in its course of some ten miles turns several mills, and expands into one or two sheets of ornamental water. From Hedsor a pleasant walk of about three miles leads to Beaconsfield, where lie the remains of Waller and of Burke. The house in which Burke resided—and who that has read his Correspondence will forget it and the joyful hours he spent there, with the gloomy close ?—was accidentally burnt down in 1813. Burke's remains were deposited in the church. Waller was buried in the churchyard, where is a showy marble monument to his memory. The monument is shaded by a large walnut-tree, the presence of which, so unusual in a churchyard, is accounted for by the family crest being a walnut-tree. His house, Hull Court, a somewhat stately-looking red brick mansion, still stands. Let us return to our river.
Immediately below Cookham bridge is a series of connected islets that are laid out as pleasuregrounds, and look very beautiful. On the Berkshire side are a number of rather superior houses, several of which have a neat and cheerful appearance. Some of them are of considerable size and pretension. Formosa is the most celebrated, and, with the grounds, fairly merits the name it bears. But it is to Cliefden that the river here owes its chief loveliness, and whether we view the valley of the Thames from it, or float leisurely along the stream and regard it as the principal object, we shall alike find enough to delight the eye and kindle the imagination. The path lies along the Berkshire side of the river, and Cliefden, which is on the opposite side, is a magnificent object from it, but the rambler should here by all means take a boat—and there are two or three places near Maidenhead at which one can be hired—and row gently along, if he would see this part in all its varied beauty. Cliefden runs along the summit of a lofty ridge which overhangs the river. The .outline of this ridge is broken in the most agreeable way ; the steep bank is clothed with luxuriant foliage, forming a hanging wood of great beauty, or in parts bare so as to increase the gracefulness of the foliage by the contrast, and the whole bank has run into easy flowing curves at the bidding of the noble stream which washes its base. A few islands deck this part of the river, and occasionally little tongues of land run out into it, or a tree overhangs it, helping to give vigour to the foreground of the rich landscape. In the early morning, when the sun has risen just high enough to illumine the summit of the ridge and highest trees, and all the lower part rests a heavy mass of shadow on the sleeping river, the scene is one of extraordinary grandeur.
From the summit the views are really magnificent. I believe they are unequalled along the Thames—or only equalled by that from the north terrace of Windsor. Both up and down the river they are of surpassing beauty. Looking over Windsor the eye ranges far away till it loses itself in the hazy distance, to which the royal pile gives an aerial grace, while it adds majesty to the whole view. Looking up the river, from the heights towards Hedsor, we have a prospect little less splendid, though of a very different character. A vast extent of country lies at your feet covered with dense wooded tracts, from which ever and anon peeps up an old grey tower, and the blue smoke marks a secluded village, while our glorious river winds away like a broad stream of molten silver. I have gazed over these scenes on an autumn day till their very beauty has become oppressive.
But it is time to look at the house—
"Cliefden's proud alcove,
as Pope, in his' Epistle to Lord Bathurst,' terms it. Cliefden House was erected in the reign of Charles II., by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. The Duke of Buckingham has been unlucky in having his name sent down to posterity by men of genius whom he had offended, and who have Vol. r. K
managed matters so that one cannot hear it mentioned without its starting a flight of ugly associations. He was, beyond doubt, possessed of considerable ability; even Dryden, in the exquisite portrait of him as Zimri, admits that he was
"A man so various, that he seemed to be
though he somewhat qualifies the praise—if praise it be—in the next lines:—
"Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;
(Absalom and Achitophel.)
And what follows is well known.
The worst that can fairly be said of him is, that in a vicious and profligate court, he was the most vicious and profligate; and in an age when man and woman alike cast off shame as a needless garment, he was the most shameless. Pope's allusion, in the lines quoted above, is to his connexion with the Countess of Shrewsbury, whose husband he killed in a duel. While they fought, the Countess is said to have stood by dressed as a page, holding Buckingham's horse; and then to have gone home with him, though covered with her husband's blood. Pepys a little while afterwards notes in his Diary: "I am told that the Countess of Shrewsbury is brought home by the Duke of Buckingham to his house; where his Duchess saying that it was not for her and the. other to live together in a house, answered, 'Why, Madame, I did think so, and therefore have ordered your coach to be ready to carry you to your father's;' which was a devilish