White-Knights. A Poem.

A Descriptive Account of the Mansion and Gardens of White-Knights, a Seat of His Grace the Duke of Marlborough.

Barbara Hofland

A country-house poem in 25 Spenserians, some irregular. The poem is appended to the Descriptive Account, an elaborately produced quarto volume illustrating the gardens at White Knights in some fifty plates done by Barbara Hofland's husband Thomas, a landscape painter.

In the slight allegory the Duke of Marlborough is directed by Taste — the Fairy Queen — assisted by her page Invention, offspring of Fancy and Experience. The figures of Enthusiasm and Genius appear to the Duke in a vision and encourage him to carry out his designs: "Haste, then, to form the scene thou lov'st so well, | Here come with Taste to reign — with Health and Joy to dwell" p. 143. The work is carried out by "ruddy Labour" and "Fair Ingenuity." The second half of the poem describes the gardens, grottos, and outbuildings. While some slight attempt is made to imitate Spenser, a more direct source may be the fairy poetry of Thomas Tickell's Kensington Garden (1722).

The first four stanzas were anonymously printed in Morning Post, 10 April 1817, prior to publication, with this headnote: "The following Stanzas, occasioned by seeing several views of the beautiful grounds at White Knights (a seat of the Duke of Marlborough), being thought a happy imitation of SPENSER, are transmitted by a friend of the Author."

Mary Russell Mitford to Sir William Elford: "I have been hearing and seeing a good deal of pictures lately, for we have had down at Reading Mr. Hofland, an artist whom I admire very much (am I right?) and his wife, whom, as a woman and an authoress, I equally love and admire. (Pray, if you wish to 'cry quarts,' read her children's books — her 'Good Grandmother' and her 'Son of a Genius.') It was that notable fool, His Grace of Marlborough, who imported these delightful people into our Boeotian town. He — the possessor of Blenheim — is employing Mr. Hofland to take views at Whiteknights — where there are no views; and Mrs. Hofland to write a description of Whiteknights — where there is nothing to describe. I have been a great deal with them, and have helped Mrs. Hofland to one page of her imperial quarto (for which see the envelope); and, to make myself amends for flattering the scenery in verse, I comfort myself by abusing it in prose to whoever will listen. There is a certain wood at Whiteknights, shut in with great boarded gates, which nobody is allowed to enter. It is a perfect Bluebeard's chamber, and of course, all our pretty Fatimas would give their heads to get in. Well, thither have I been, and it is the very palace of False Taste — a bad French garden, with staring gravel-walks, make-believe bridges, stunted vineyards, and vistas through which you see nothing. Thither did I go with Mrs. Hofland — 'the two first modest ladies,' as the housekeeper said, that she remembered to have been admitted there. Nota bene, the queen and princesses had walked over it the week before. But the master was absent, and we had the comfort of laughing at it as much as we chose" 11 October 1817; in L'Estrange, Life of Mary Russell Mitford (1870) 1:272-73.

Literary Gazette: "The work closes with a poem called White Knights, complimentary to the noble proprietor. It is in the versification of Spencer, and possesses considerable beauty" (25 September 1819) 614.

The Champion: the Descriptive Account "is closed by a beautifully descriptive poem, in the stanza and allegoric style of Spencer, from the pen of Mrs. H. herself — in which it is truly surprising to observe how highly poetical she has been able to render a very large portion of so very unpromising a subject" (26 December 1819) 825.

The Examiner: "An allegorical Poem on White Knights, by Miss Mitford [sic], is a highly graceful appendage to the Descriptions"(9 January 1820) 29.

Gentleman's Magazine "Mrs. Hofland wrote this work, which concluded with a very clever poem, remarkable for the same peculiar and striking imagery that distinguishes Spenser" NS 23 (January 1845) 101.

W. Davenport Adams: "Barbard Hofland, miscellaneous writer (b. 1770, d. 1844), author of The Daughter-in-Law, Emily, The Story of a Genius, and many other works. See The Gentleman's Magazine (1845), and the Life by Ramsay (1849)" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 284.

Wot ye not, stranger, this is Fairies' land,
And nightly on the greensward do they play,
Like shadowy diamonds on the pebbled strand,
That dance and sparkle in the watery spray?
Well may they revel here with joyance gay,
Since never spot so wond'rous fair, I ween,
Glow'd with like beauty 'neath the sunny ray;
Or in the moonlight smiled with gentle sheen
To woo their fairy bands, and win their sprightly Queen.

Sometimes in grand procession will they prance
Athwart this rustic bridge, and proudly bear
Gay silken banner and innocuous lance;
While thrilling music fans the midnight air,
And choral songsters chaunt that peerless fair,
Whose insiration taught a mortal's mind
To form this Paradise of all things rare;
Where art and nature, by attraction join'd,
Find all their beauties dwell, and all their arts combin'd.

A Fairy, she, descent from regal race,
Knowledge and Elegance her parents hight;
And she was nurtured by the hand of Grace,
With sweet Simplicity, a lovely wight.
Thence grew she up, the charm of every sight,
For such her power, that e'en the desart waste
Became with verdure clothed divinely bright
Where'er her flowery steps their wanderings trac'd,
Such was this wondrous Fay, whom men ycleped Taste.

This sylph was clad in many colour'd vest,
Adjusted so by Harmony's fair hand;
No gaudy hue could therein be express'd,
For brilliant tint was tam'd with purest bland—
Her taper fingers held a magic wand,
The which on head of happy mortal laid,
Straight would each sense with finer powers expand.
Hence Noble Marlbro' form'd this Eden glade,
For much belov'd was he by that sweet elfin maid.

A little page hath she, of wond'rous skill,
Whose starry eyes out-pierce the diamond's ray;
Whose tiny fingers mould whate'er they will
In flinty rocks, pure gold, or slippery clay;
His cunning hands can beauty's self pourtray;
And well his mind hath conn'd all hidden lore,
That may his Lady's magic spells display,
Invention he — whom in the days of yore,
Fancy, a blooming spright, to sage Experience bore.

When glimm'ring morn from forth the east would peep,
These twain to Marlboro's downy pillow flew;
And whiles the gladden'd earth with joy did weep
In many a balmy tear of spangling dew,
O'er hill and dale his blithesome steps they drew,
And bade before his gaze bright visions rise;
Which ever and anon they would renew,
In every varied scene of beauteous guise,
That power like hers could raise, or art like his devise.

And whiles the princely Knight, with glistening eye,
Beheld this day-dream's floating witchery,
Two viewless forms were chaunting in the sky,
With seraph songs of melting minstrelsy:
Whose soft allurements or bold majesty,
No ear of mortal might withstand unblam'd,
Enthusiasm that — and this was Genius high,
Whose lofty soul his fitful consort tam'd,
For blind devotion mourn'd, for generous ardour fam'd.

They sang, "This goodly vision all be thine,
Thine the wide honours of the spreading wave,
The trellic'd paths where mingling woodbines twine,
Embowering shade and shell-bespangled cave:
Pearl-dropping fount, where Oberon may lave,
And all that charms thy sight, of lawn or dell,
The forest's pride — the garden's sylvan shrine;
Haste, then, to form the scene thou lov'st so well,
Here come with Taste to reign — with Health and Joy to dwell."

The minstrels ceas'd, but on his yielding breast,
Their echoing music seemed yet to ring;
Though soft, yet deeply, was each sound imprest;
Who will not list when Genius deigns to sing?
Thus fall balsamic showers in vernal spring
On the parch'd bosom of the thirsty mead:
Straight from the visit of such grateful guest,
Green blades, gay flowers, and golden crops succeed;
And thus from noble mind forth sprung the beauteous deed.

Then ruddy Labour rais'd his sun-brown'd head,
With thankful smile, and plied his sinewy arms;
Fair Ingenuity his task o'erspread,
With mantling verdure and unnumber'd charms;
Which prudent caution guarded from all harms;
While Industry from every fragrant bed
Pluck'd each unsightly weed, or placed with care
The genial soil — whatever cools or warms,
For Flora's train the fructifying air,
And well his toils were paid — they grew and flourished fair.

Oh, lovely flowers! the Earth's rich diadem,
Bright resurrection from her sable tomb!
Ye are the eyes of Nature — her blest gem,
With you she tints her face with living bloom,
And breathes delight in gales of sweet perfume;
Emblems are ye of heaven and heavenly joy,
Of starry brilliance in a world of gloom;
Peace, innocence, and guileless infancy
Claim sisterhood with you, and sacred is the tye.

Not regal splendour, when in glory's tide
It shines effulgently, with thee can vie:
Impearled lily, whom the tall leaves hide,
That we may find thee by thy perfumed sigh!
Ah! well doth it all other guide supply,—
Thus too the sapphire violet lurks unseen,
Not so Anacreon's rose, which courts the eye;
She bows and blushes, yet reveals her mien,
And blooms benignantly, a beauteous maiden queen.

Shining from out rich leaves of velvet green,
That brighter than the emerald Laurels are,
Here great Magnolia spreads a lofty screen,
And pearls his silvery flowers like morning's star,—
He is the King of Flowers, and comes from far,
To woo our Northern Rose, fair Europe's pride:
Behold the Hero, on a Conqueror's car,
Subduing nature for his beauteous bride,
Scattering Arabia's sweets, profuse on every side.

Here rich Geranium flaunts in Tyrian vest,
And graceful Fuschia hangs her coral bells,
Camella proudly lifts his glowing crest,
And red Azalea's saffron blossom swells;
Gay Oleander tints the flowery cells;
But rich Begonia paints with deeper hues,
Drinking the sun-beams: classic Lotos dwells
In the deep stream, and her pale cheek imbues
With cold and marbly tone, like melancholy muse.

And when round Flora's Temple these uprose,
In painted treillage, bow'r, or glazed alcove,
From scupltur'd urn, or rare cerulean vase—
With looks of beauty and with breath of love,
Forth fled Invention to the neighb'ring grove,
And plucked thence of branches a vast store,
Wherewith to form fair seats for those who rove;
That they may view this Eden o'er and o'er,
And wish for aye to dwell and gaze for evermore.

With nimble hands the woodland task he plied,
Mingling each shining bark of differing hue;
Fair Taste, his goodly Queen, was still his guide,
And gave him forms of beauty ever new.
And as each rural temple rose to view,
Her magic hand, with decorative power,
In light festoons the curling ivy threw,
Or round the rustic column twin'd the flower
With grace unspeakable, and stamp'd it Fancy's bower.

This, of the Cedar's fragrant branches made,
Like radiated stars its pannels spread,
And these the rind of silvery ash display'd,
Close diamonded with bark of dusky red—
And with such wiliness of art were led,
Their inland sprays of chequering dark and light,
Ye would have thought th' embroiderer's silken thread
Had wrought them on some curious vesture bright,
Or costly cabinet, with inlaid jewels dight.

Enroofed were they all with humble straw,
But in such wise they other domes out-peer'd,
For lack'd there nought of architecture's law,
Since fairer canopies were never rear'd;
Adorned now — now simple, they appear'd—
All plants capreolate did there abound;
Along the scallop'd eaves their tendrils veer'd;
And many a flower of brilliant tint was found,
That fondly climbed the thatch, or bending, kiss'd the ground.

But who Invention's wond'rous feats shall tell,
When o'er the stream yon ivied bridge she threw,
Woo'd the coy Naiads in the silent dell,
To fill his founts with congregated dew,
And as the refluent crystal sportive flew,
Shaking the drops from his etherial wing,
He call'd on Taste her lesson to renew,
Or scoop'd the basin for the welling spring,
Which fell with tinklings sweet, as mermaids wont to sing?

Then Taste brought forth of treasures a vast store,
The unseen riches of the bounteous deep,
Corals and shells, rare stones and gleaming ore,
Which Neptune loveth in his caves to keep,
Albeit hid, like Beauty's eyes in sleep:—
And plants marine, that own the spell-like touch
Of Knaresbro's nymph, who when she wills to weep
Her petrifying tears preserveth such—
With spars and marbles fair, which Taste delighteth much.

With these her lily hands disdained not
To mould fair ornaments of matchless art:
And first, to decorate her favourite Grot,
She chose the goodliest, from her beauteous mart,
Of all the gifts old Ocean could impart:
Conchs, Nautili, and Lyric shells, were seen,
And spiral forms, that thro' the rude waves dart;
These, on the shelving rocks, she placed between
The rough stones browny moss, and tufts of emerald green.

Then Fountains of like beauty would she frame,
Where Art with Nature sweetly did combine,
That neither might eclipse the other's fame,
Yet each their separate excellence define:
There might the Sage, and there the Bard recline,
To watch the tinklings of the sportive rill,
As 'mongst the glittering spars its cold drops shine,
Or gushing swift, as summer show'rs distil
It flows to Fancy's eye, like stream from Alpine hill.

And arched bowers she wove of endless length,
Thro' which the branching trees were deftly twin'd,
Willing the gentle Taste should bow their strength,
Like lordly man, whom courtesy doth bind,
To stoop, and somewhat yield, to woman-kind:
And as fair woman gilds man's social hours
With grateful smiles, so 'mongst these boughs we find
Soft gales of fragrance and unnumber'd flowers,
Commingling all their charms to grace the stately bowers.

Amid these branching roofs of vernal shade
With streaks of splendour peeps the golden sun,
As tho' his beams with frolic zephyr play'd,
Which thro' the whisp'ring leaves doth ever run,
As nymph that may be chased, yet never won.
Calm silence loveth well their noiseless sport,
Of flickering light and shadows softly dun;
Nor less Amusement, who doth here resort
With Beauty, Music, Joy, and all her blissful court.

But vain it were attempting to rehearse
What Genius prompted and what Marlboro' wrought,
Nor Painter's magic touch, nor Minstrel's verse,
Can show the scenes with such enchantment fraught:
But, stranger, if thy wandering dreams have sought
Elysian fields, as sung by Bards of old,
Here realize their luxury of thought;
What Attic Lyre hath sung in fancy bold,
Britannia's happier son, empowers thee to BEHOLD.

[pp. 139-51]