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ancient family: so that, standing at the summit of the highest flight, the eye fell between an avenue of these monsters, which, to compare small things with great, might have reminded you of an avenue of sphinxes at Thebes or Persepolis. The effect was not bad; neither was that of the many stone statues, intermingled, here and there, with the shrubs of the garden.
This succession of terraces terminated in the green plateau of a narrow valley; traversed by a wide, shallow, pebbly stream, clear as crystal—too wide to be called a brook, and too shallow to be called a riverwhich separated the garden of Holnicote from a precipitous, almost mountainous hill, rising opposite, covered by broken copses, and heathy knolls, with faces of red rock intervening.
The gardens on each side were shrouded and altogether enclosed, by dark, deep woods; separated from the terraces by fences, over which the heavy boughs threw their black cavernous shade.
On the upper terrace two low iron gates gave admittance to these mysterious, and almost impervious labyrinths; whose funereal aspect offered little temptation to the eye. .
Altogether, Holnicote was a gloomy place—the woods and opposite hills so completely enclosing it, as to shut out every vestige of that blue distance which gives cheerfulness to every landscape.
The other front of the house bore a still more decided character of dulness. There was a broad gravel sweep before the door; and beyond this, the grounds stretched green and wide; surrounded by black, heavy
clumps and clusters of trees, which effectually excluded, on this side also, the cheerful effect of distance.
The habitation stood in an extensive deer park.
Such was the dwelling-place of Ralph de Vere: such the possession—with its huge trees, ferny brakes, and an extent of, not too fertile, arable and pasture land—which had descended in a direct line, from father to son, since the days of Roger de Verus, Knightbanneret; who had crossed the channel with the great Conqueror, and had obtained it by marriage with the beautiful Editha, heiress of that stalwart Saxon Erle, Morcar of the Danna Frith, or holy wood of Danna.
Mr. de Vere was a very proud, and, at the same time, a very shy man: these qualities were, at his time of day, more frequently united than they are now. Men lived more entirely upon their own estates, than they do at present; and did not habitually visit the capital, unless summoned by private or parliamentary business. That universal fusion of society which now takes place, and which has gone further to level distinctions, and to diminish unsocial pride, than all the legal institutions in the universe could have done—had not then generally obtained. Many country gentlemen resided, almost without interruption, at their remote country scats: tyrants, or benefactors, to the dependants around them—as the case might chance to be.
Of these was Mr. de Vere. He disliked general society—because his pride of birth was continually froissé, by the pretensions of those whose pretensions he never would admit; and because his constitutional shyness prevented him from finding compensation for that which he thought so disagreeable, in the pleasures of conversation and cheerful intercourse. Cheerfulness, indeed, was a word the meaning of which he did not seem to understand; he hated mirth; he was disgusted with laughter; and the free, unfettered intercourse of human beings, was offensive to his taste, and sense of the propriety of things.
What a man have we here!—In what a false, unnatural, constrained position is human life thus presented !-How can any thing that is genial, affectionate, or animating, be expected to flourish in such a soil?
It did not, and it could not. Mr. de Vere, though by no means wanting, either in imagination or feeling, was the
very dryest man, with whom it was ever my lot to become acquainted.
This descendant of hoary Saxons and antique Normans, had married a young lady with pretensions, in that respect, far unequal to his own. His estates, like those of others who in the mighty changes of human affairs have adhered to their landed property, had, in the course of successive generations, become much embarrassed; and a marriage, somewhat derogatory to their high pretensions, as far as blood was concerned, had, more than once, served to patch up impaired fortunes.
The present Mrs. de Vere stood in this unenviable position. The family of De Vere had condescended, with her, to accept pretty largely the means of relieving their house from the most pressing embarrassments; a benefit for which gratitude was never felt nor expressed in the slightest degree. To admit into their lofty sphere the daughter of two generations—one whose origin, beyond those two generations, was lost in that night of obscurity, which conceals what it is the interest of no one's pride to penetrate—was return enough.
Mrs. de Vere's father had been a country gentleman, who had purchased the estate on which he lived with the fruits of his own and of his father's industry in the legal profession—the lower branches of it, alas! He had been-mention it not in the halls of de Vere-in trade.
Little mattered it, that Sophia was lovely, accomplished, tender, and refined—the darling of a circle of which she was the sole representative: Mr. de Vere never considered her as his equal. She was to him but a Pariah, after all; and, with the selfish pride of many men, he loved her the less because he was obliged to her. Had she been more decidedly his inferior—the daughter of his gamekeeper, for instance, raised by his partiality to her high position—he might, perchance, have taken pride in his own creation; as it was, those innumerable petty humiliations, to which it is the pleasure of some men to subject their wives, had been her daily portion. Till that state-- which Godwin (in some later essays, undeservedly neglected), so feelingly describes, and so justly regards, as perhaps the worst to which a human being can be reducedbecame hers : that of a broken spirit.
broken spirit. A state in which the energy of resistance is destroyed—be it to external circumstance, internal depression, or the tyranny and injustice of others. She was gentle, passive, silent. She spoke little, for she could not harden herself to the contemptuous silence, or the sarcastic contradiction, with which remarks of hers were too often met: she acted little, for where was the aim of action for one who found her wishes so rarely consulted, nor could cherish the remotest hope of seeing any plan, the suggestion of her own views or ideas, carried into execution. She had too gentle a spirit to resist oppression by violence—the only arm, which, in her case, might have been effectual; and which might, through the storms of contention, in some degree have emancipated, if it had not absolutely shipwrecked her. For such, indeed, is too often the consequence of tyranny, either public or private. It destroys its victims by the slow decay, consequent upon that moral weight which it imposes upon the soul; or it forces them, by a species of convulsive resistance, into paroxysms, that shatter the whole social fabric to atoms.
That Mrs. de Vere was very unhappy, I do not mean to say; for that state of indolent passivity commonly blunts the sharpness of feeling; but Madame de Staël, with her usual exquisite penetration into human things, well remarks, “Il y a toujours, dans la degradation, un malheur sourd, dont l'on ne se rend pas compte.” A human being, under such a yoke, is more unhappy than he is himself aware of. The sharp sting of actual misery, perhaps, he may escape; but the throb of joy—the sunshine of the mind-never reaches him. He lives, as under the heavy, leaden atmosphere of a still, cold, bleak November day. Oh! far more genial is the bright hurrying wind—the snowy rack sweeping