We drove out to Eaton Hall, the seat of the Duke of Westminster, the many-millioned lord of a good part of London. It is a palace, high-roofed, marble-columned, vast, magnificent, everything but homelike, and perhaps homelike to persons born and bred in such edifices. A painter like Paul Veronese finds a palace like this not too grand for his banqueting scenes. But to those who live, as most of us do, in houses of moderate dimensions, snug, comfortable, which the owner's presence fills sufficiently, leaving room for a few visitors, a vast marble palace is disheartening and uninviting. I never get into a very large and lofty saloon without feeling as if I were a weak solution of myself,--my personality almost drowned out in the flood of space about me. The wigwam is more homelike than the cavern. Our wooden houses are a better kind of wigwam; the marble palaces are artificial caverns, vast, resonant, chilling, good to visit, not desirable to live in, for most of us. One's individuality should betray itself in all that surrounds him; he should secrete his shell, like a mollusk; if he can sprinkle a few pearls through it, so much the better. It is best, perhaps, that one should avoid being a duke and living in a palace,--that is, if he has his choice in the robing chamber where souls are fitted with their earthly garments.
What a life must be that of one whose years are passed chiefly in and about the great Abbey! Nowhere does Macbeth's expression "dusty death" seem so true to all around us. The dust of those who have been lying century after century below the marbles piled over them,--the dust on the monuments they lie beneath; the dust on the memories those monuments were raised to keep living in the recollection of posterity,--dust, dust, dust, everywhere, and we ourselves but shapes of breathing dust moving amidst these objects and remembrances! Come away! The good Archdeacon of the "Eternal Hope" has asked us to take a cup of tea with him. The tea-cup will be a cheerful substitute for the funeral urn, and a freshly made infusion of the fragrant leaf is one of the best things in the world to lay the dust of sad reflections.
Nature had sent one cuckoo from her aviary to sing his double note for me, that I might not pass away from her pleasing show without once hearing the call so dear to the poets. It was the last day of spring. A few more days, and the solitary voice might have been often heard; for the bird becomes so common as to furnish Shakespeare an image to fit "the skipping king:"--
I never refused to write in the birthday book or the album of the humblest schoolgirl or schoolboy, and I could not refuse to set my name, with a verse from one of my poems, in the album of the Princess of Wales, which was sent me for that purpose. It was a nice new book, with only two or three names in it, and those of musical composers,-- Rubinstein's, I think, was one of them,--so that I felt honored by the great lady's request. I ought to describe the book, but I only remember that it was quite large and sumptuously elegant, and that I copied into it the last verse of a poem of mine called "The Chambered Nautilus," as I have often done for plain republican albums.
Our host, Mr. Flower, is more deeply interested, perhaps, than any other individual in the "Shakespeare Memorial" buildings which have been erected on the banks of the Avon, a short distance above the Church of the Holy Trinity. Under Mr. Flower's guidance we got into one of his boats, and were rowed up the stream to the Memorial edifice. There is a theatre, in a round tower which has borrowed some traits from the octagon "Globe" theatre of Shakespeare's day; a Shakespeare library and portrait gallery are forming; and in due time these buildings, of stately dimensions and built solidly of brick, will constitute a Shakespearean centre which will attract to itself many mementoes now scattered about in various parts of the country.
After my return from the race we went to a large dinner at Mr. Phelps's house, where we met Mr. Browning again, and the Lord Chancellor Herschell, among others. Then to Mrs. Cyril Flower's, one of the most sumptuous houses in London; and after that to Lady Rothschild's, another of the private palaces, with ceilings lofty as firmaments, and walls that might have been copied from the New Jerusalem. There was still another great and splendid reception at Lady Dalhousie's, and a party at Mrs. Smith's, but we were both tired enough to be willing to go home after what may be called a pretty good day's work at enjoying ourselves.
They slant, they stoop, they fall at last,