On one side of this noble approach is the garden, where, under the care of the skilful and excellent gardener, Mr. Cooper, so many magnificent dahlias are raised, but where, alas! the Phoebus was not; and between that and the mansion is the sunny, shady paddock, with its rich pasture and its roomy stable, where, for so many years, Copenhagen, the charger who carried the Duke at Waterloo, formed so great an object of attraction to the visiters of Strathfield-saye.* Then came the house itself and then I returned home. Well! this was one beautiful and fruitless drive. The ruins of Reading Abbey formed another as fruitless, and still more beautiful.
* Copenhagen–(I had the honour of naming one of Mr. Cooper’s dahlias after him–a sort of bay dahlia, if I may be permitted the expression)–Copenhagen was a most interesting horse. He died last year at the age of twenty- seven. He was therefore in his prime on the day of Waterloo, when the duke (then and still a man of iron) rode him for seventeen hours and a half, without dismounting. When his Grace got off, he patted him, and the horse kicked, to the great delight of his brave rider, as it proved that he was not beaten by that tremendous day’s work. After his return, this paddock was assigned to him, in which he passed the rest of his life in the most perfect comfort that can be imagined; fed twice a-day, (latterly upon oats broken for him,) with a comfortable stable to retire to, and a rich pasture in which to range. The late amiable duchess used regularly to feed him with bread, and this kindness had given him the habit, (especially after her death,) of approaching every lady with the most confiding familiarity. He had been a fine animal, of middle size and a chestnut colour, but latterly he exhibited an interesting specimen of natural decay, in a state as nearly that of nature as can well be found in a civilised country. He had lost an eye from age, and had become lean and feeble, and, in the manner in which he approached even a casual visiter, there was something of the demand of sympathy, the appeal to human kindness, which one has so often observed from a very old dog towards his master. Poor Copenhagen, who, when alive, furnished so many reliques from his mane and tail to enthusiastic young ladies, who had his hair set in brooches and rings, was, after being interred with military honours, dug up by some miscreant, (never, I believe, discovered,) and one of his hoofs cut off, it is to be presumed, for a memorial, although one that would hardly go in the compass of a ring. A very fine portrait of Copenhagen has been executed by my young friend Edmund H a veil, a youth of seventeen, whose genius as an animal painter, will certainly place him second only to Landseer.
Whether in the “palmy state” of the faith of Rome, the pillared aisles of the Abbey church might have vied in grandeur with the avenue at Strathfield-saye, I can hardly say; but certainly, as they stand, the venerable arched gateway, the rock-like masses of wall, the crumbling cloisters, and the exquisite finish of the surbases of the columns and other fragments, fresh as if chiselled yesterday, which are re-appearing in the excavations now making, there is an interest which leaves the grandeur of life, palaces and their pageantry, parks and their adornments, all grandeur except the indestructible grandeur of nature, at an immeasurable distance. The place was a history. Centuries passed before us as we thought of the magnificent monastery, the third in size and splendour in England, with its area of thirty acres between the walls–and gazed upon it now!
And yet, even now, how beautiful! Trees of every growth mingling with those grey ruins, creepers wreathing their fantastic garlands around the mouldering arches, gorgeous flowers flourishing in the midst of that decay! I almost forgot my search for the dear Phoebus, as I rambled with my friend Mr. Malone, the gardener, a man who would in any station be remarkable for acuteness and acquirement, amongst the august remains of the venerable abbey, with the history of which he was as conversant as with his own immediate profession. There was no speaking of smaller objects in the presence of the mighty past!
Gradually chilled by so much unsuccess, the ardour of my pursuit began to abate. I began to admit the merits of other dahlias of divers colours, and actually caught myself committing the inconstancy of considering which of the four Princes of Orange I should bespeak for next year. Time, in short, was beginning to play his part as the great comforter of human afflictions, and the poor Phoebus seemed as likely to be forgotten as a last year’s bonnet, or a last week’s newspaper–when, happening to walk with my father to look at a field of his, a pretty bit of upland pasture about a mile off, I was struck, in one corner where the manure for dressing had been deposited, and a heap of earth and dung still remained, to be spread, I suppose, next spring, with some tall plant surmounted with bright flowers. Could it be?–was it possible?–did my eyes play me false?–No; there it was, upon a dunghill–the object of all my researches and lamentations, the identical Phoebus! the lost dahlia!