Page images
PDF
EPUB

WINDSOR, AS IT WAS.

My earliest recollections of Windsor are exceedingly delightful. I was born within a stone's throw of the Castle gates; and my whole boyhood was passed in the most unrestrained enjoyment of the venerable and beautiful objects by which I was surrounded, as if they had been my own peculiar and proper inheritance. The king and his family lived in a plain barrack-looking lodge at his castle foot, which, in its external appearance and its interior arrangements, exactly corresponded with the humble taste and the quiet domestic habits of George III. The whole range of the castle, its terrace, and its park, were places dedicated to the especial pleasures of a school-boy. Neither warder, nor sentinel, nor gamekeeper interfered with our boisterous sports. The deserted courts of the upper quadrangle often re-echoed, on the moonlight winter evenings, with our whoo-whoop; and delightful hiding places indeed there were amongst the deep buttresses and sharp angles of those old towers. The rooks and a few antique dowagers, who had each their domicile in some lone turret of that spacious square, were the only personages who were disturbed by our revelry;—and they, kind creatures, never complained to the authorities.

But if the inner courts of Windsor Castle rang with our sports, how much more noisy was the joy in the magnificent play-ground of the terrace! Away we went, fearless as the chamois, along the narrow wall; and even the awful height of the north side, where we looked down upon the tops of the highest trees, could not abate the rash courage of follow my leader. In the pauses of the sport, how often has my eye reposed upon that magnificent landscape which lay at my feet, drinking in its deep beauty, without a critical thought of the picturesque Then, indeed, I knew nothing about "The stately brow

Of Windsor's heights,”

nor could I bid the stranger

"Th' expanse below

Of grove, of lawn, of mead survey."

My thoughts, then, were all fresh and vivid, and I could enjoy the scenes amongst which I lived, without those artificial and hackneyed associations which make up the being of the man. Great, too, was my joy, when laying my eye to the edge of the eastern wall, and looking along a channel cut in the surface, I saw the dome of St. Paul's looming through the smoke at twenty miles distance. Then, God be praised, my ear had not been shattered, nor my heart hardened, by dwelling under the shadow of that dome;-and I thought of London, as a place for the wise and the good to be great

and happy in-and not as an especial den in which

"All creeping creatures, venomous and low,"

might crawl over and under each other.

The Park! what a glory was that for cricket and kite-flying. No one molested us. The beautiful plain immediately under the eastern terrace was called the Bowling Green ;-and, truly, it was as level as the smoothest of those appendages to suburban inns. We took excellent care that the grass should not grow too fast beneath our feet. No one molested us. The king, indeed, would sometimes stand alone for half an hour to see the boys at cricket;-and heartily would he laugh when the wicket of some confident urchin went down at the first ball. But we did not heed his majesty. He was a quiet good-humoured gentleman, in a long blue coat, whose face was as familiar to us as that of our writing master; and many a time had that gracious gentleman bidden us good morning, when we were hunting for mushrooms in the early dew, and had crossed his path as he was returning from his dairy to his eight o'clock breakfast. Every one knew that most respectable and amiable of country squires, called His Majesty; and truly there was no inequality in the matter, for his majesty knew every one.

This circumstance was a natural result of the familiar and simple habits of the court. There was as little parade as can well be imagined in all thẹ

movements of George III. and his family; and there was infinitely more state at such places as Stowe and Alnwick, than in the royal lodge at Windsor. The good man and his amiable family, perhaps, as a matter of policy, carried this freedom of manners to a little excess ;-and it was from this cause that the constant attacks of Peter Pindar, in which the satire is levelled not only against the most amiable of weaknesses, but against positive virtues, were so popular during the French revolutionary war. But, at any rate, the unrestrained intercourse of the king with those by whom he was surrounded, is something which is now very pleasant to look back upon. I have now no recollection of having, when a child, seen the king with any of the appendages of royalty, except when he went to town, once a week, to hold a levee; and then ten dragoons rode before and ten after his carriage, and the tradesmen in the streets through which he passed duly stood at their doors, to make the most profound reverences, as in duty bound, when their monarch looked "every inch a king." But the bows were less profound, and the wonderment none at all, when twice a-week, as was his wont during the summer months, his majesty with all his family, and a considerable bevy of ancient maids of honour and half-pay generals, walked through the town, or rode at a slow pace in an open carriage, to the Windsor theatre, which was then in the High Street. Reader, it is impossible that you can form an idea of the smallness of that theatre, unless you

have by chance lived in a country town, when the assembly-room of the head inn has been fitted up with the aid of brown paper and ochre, for the exhibition of some heroes of the sock and buskin, vulgarly called strollers. At the old Windsor theatre, her majesty's apothecary in the lower boxes might have almost felt her pulse across the pit. My knowledge of the drama commenced at the early age of seven years, amidst this royal fellowship in fun;-and most loyally did I laugh when his majesty, leaning back in his capacious arm-chair in the stage-box, shook the house with his genuine peals of hearty merriment. Well do I remember the whole course of these royal play-goings. The theatre was of an inconvenient form, with very sharp angles at the junctions of the centre with the sides. The stage-box and the whole of the left or O. P. side of the lower tier were appropriated to royalty. The house would fill at about half-past six. At seven precisely, Mr. Thornton, the manager, made his entrance backwards, through a little door, into the stage-box, with a plated candlestick in each hand, bowing with all the grace that his gout would permit. The six fiddles struck up 'God save the King;' the audience rose; the king nodded round and took his seat next the stage; the queen curtseyed, and took her arm-chair also. The satin bills of their majesties and the princesses were then duly displayed, and the dingy green curtain drew up. The performances were invariably either a comedy and farce, or more frequently three farces,

« PreviousContinue »