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If we had not stayed so long in the village we might well linger a few minutes to notice the very pleasing views, both up and down the river, which are obtainable from Richmond Bridge. Upwards, the hill, with the neat residences crowning the summit; the richly wooded meadows of Ham on the one side, and those of Twickenham on the other; the Duke of Buccleugh's and other villas, as well as those already mentioned, which skirt the banks of the clear river, along which drags slowly a deepladen barge, while pleasure-boats and fishing-punts enliven the surface: and downwards the broad stream, with the aits so prettily ornamented with poplars and willows; the banks with their villas and villa-like hotels; perhaps a steamer at the landing-place disembarking its passengers, or gliding along mid-stream; and in the distance the dense foliage of Kew and Isleworth—these might fairly claim regard, for each is a view which, though presenting no very striking features, is always looked upon with pleasure. The peculiar character of the downward prospect has, indeed, been of late in a great measure destroyed by the erection of the railway bridge and its approaches; but the bridge itself is a neat, almost a graceful structure, and gives something in the place of what it has taken away or concealed ; while from the height and span the arches serve well as a frame to display to advantage the landscape seen through them from the river side or surface.
The grounds on the left below Richmond Bridge are those of Twickenham Park—lying therefore a mile and a half lower down the river than Twickenham village. Here it was that Bacon in his earlier days pursued in comparative retirement his philosophic studies, and later in life he was anxious to repurchase his former house, "for a residence for such deserving persons to study in" as should engage in those scientific researches he was anxious to see undertaken. His reason for selecting 'Twitnam Park' for this purpose he states to be, that he "experimentally found the situation of that place much convenient for the trial of his philosophical conclusions." Bacon's house was pulled down about forty years ago. Several villas have been built in the park, so that it bears little resemblance to its appearance in "good Queen Bess's golden days;" but there are many old trees standing, which the inhabitants are willing to believe were planted by the great Lord Chancellor.
Onwards the "Thames in silver currents winds his way " through a vale of rich cultivated beauty. The grounds of the Marquis of Ailsa, and those of the Duke of Northumberland's famous domain of Sion, on the left bank, have both been carefully arranged with a view to picturesque effect; while on the right are the lofty elms of Richmond Lower Park and Kew Gardens. Isleworth lies half hidden behind the long ait, but what is seen of it rather contributes to the general sequestered, yet not unsocial air. This part of the river, and as far as Kew Bridge, is in deserved favour for a row on a summer's evening. It is the last really quiet, sylvan, companionable reach on the Thames.
The venerable ivy-covered tower of Isleworth church, which looks so picturesque as you approach it from the river, holds out the promise of a more attractive place than the village proves to be when you perambulate it. Only the tower of the church is ancient. The remainder of the building is a very ordinary brick erection of the commencement of the eighteenth century; the design of it is said to be an alteration from one made a few years before at the desire of the parish magnates, by Sir Christopher Wren, but which was considered to be too costly.
About the village there are many houses of a rather superior grade, but it falls not within the plan of this volume to particularize them; the history of this village has been fully recounted in a goodly tome by Mr. Aungier. What has given to Isleworth its chief historical fame is the monastery of Sion ; as now the mansion (or palace) of the same name gives to it its local celebrity.
It was" in 1414 that King Henry V. expelled from his manor of Isleworth some alien monks who were settled there, and founded in their stead a monastery of the order of St. Bridget—the only one of that order in England. The monastery was from the first on an important scale; its founder making provision for sixty nuns and twenty-five monks, which was the full number allowed to be in one houseof that Order. It was a part of the provision of the Order, as Fuller says, " that the house was to be endowed plentifully at the first, whereon they might live without wanting or begging, as well in dear as cheap years; and after their first foundation they were uncapable of any future benefactions; 'If afterwards the whole world should proffer them farms and possessions, it was utterly unlawful for them to accept anything thereof.'" So stringent was the rule in this respect, that whatever remained after the annual audit they were enjoined to distribute without reserve to the poor, "conceiving otherwise it would putrify and corrupt if treasured up, and be as heinous an offence as the Jews, when preserving manna longer than the continuance of one day." (' Ch. Hist.' Book vi. sect. i. 40.) However, Sion appears to have admitted of additional benefactions, for Henry VI. is set down as having made large gifts and grants to the monastery. At the spoliation of the religious houses by Henry VIII., its wealth was considerable; the royal commissioners stated the gross annual revenue to be 1944J. lis. b\d.
Sion was one of the first of the large monasteries that was suppressed. It is said to have been especially obnoxious to the King on account of the prophetic claims of the Maid of Kent having been earnestly espoused by the inmates; and no doubt their great wealth was another inducement. This being one of the very few priories in which persons of both sexes were allowed to reside, it was of course easy to get up a case against it; and the agents of Thomas Cromwell were excellently adapted for such a purpose. "They were men," as Thomas Fuller, no friend to the monks, very truly says, " who well understood the message they went on, and would not come back without a satisfactory answer to him that sent them, knowing themselves were likely to be no losers thereby." On the whole the Commissioners prefer stronger and grosser charges against the inmates of Sion than those of almost any other monastery; but the strange laxity of investigation is apparent, on the slightest examination, to any one, however unused to weigh the trustworthiness of evidence. Where not invented or fancied—and their prurient minds made them but too ready to do either—the matters stated as certain are plainly the merest hearsay. Whoever had a coarse tale to tell was eagerly listened to. "Hit were long to declare," says the veracious Kichard Layton, writing to Cromwell, after detailing at length the abominable charges brought against one of the most contumacious of the monks of Sion, "Hit were long to declare alle thynges of hym that I have herde, wich / svppos is trewe. This afternoone I intende to make furder serche bothe of sum of the brederen, and sum also of the sisters." But withal it was found no easy matter to render the brethren and sisters conformable— for it was a main object to make the surrender seem to be voluntary on their part. The following passage from the letter of another of the respectable Commissioners may serve to show the means bywhich the monks and nuns were to be persuaded, or frightened, or hammered into acquiescence in the royal will. Thomas Bedyll says, in writing to Cromwell, " As for the brethren, they stand stiff in their obstinacy as you left them. Copynger and Lache were sent to my Lord of London on Monday. Here were on Tuesday Doctor Buttes and the Queen's Almoner to convert Whitford* and Little. And on Wed