Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Pantheon in an Outhouse

Letter from Robert Southey to Mrs. Hughes (December 6, 1827), in Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, ed. John Wood Warter, Vol. IV (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, 1856), pp. 74-76:
We were passing a few days at Netherhall, close by Maryfort,—a strange old house, part of which is known to have been standing in the reign of Edward II., and probably something has been added to it, or altered in it, in every generation since. When first I knew it the entrance was half filled with heathen gods, and the long passages, of course, infested by ghosts. The gods were not modern statues, but good, venerable, old heathen deities, dug up in a Roman station close at hand, upon the estate. A great many monuments were built into the front of the house as long ago as in Elizabeth's days, when Camden saw and described them. More was afterwards found than the hall could conveniently contain; the late Mr. Senhouse, therefore (a singular old man), instead of building a room for their reception, appropriated to their use (I must tell the story) a certain apartment in the garden, which I must not further describe than by saying that it was the oddest place in the world for a museum. And thither, with the imperturbable serenity of an antiquarian, he used to conduct his guests, and explain the inscriptions to them, without ever considering how the guests or the gods liked it. To be sure there was some oddity in this; but, although the place was ill-chosen, he took care to choose his times and seasons well, and so, except in accidental cases, there was no inconvenience arising.

But Lysons the antiquary undertook, as you know, some five and twenty years ago, to compile a "Magna Britannia," and, in the course of his travels for that object, he came into Cumberland, and proceeded, as Camden had done before him, to Netherhall. He was interested with the stones which had been built in the wall, sadly as they had suffered then by the weather; he was delighted with the antiquities in the hall, but when he came to the Pantheon he was enchanted. Enchanted I say, because he forgot everything except the altars and gods before him. On the following morning before breakfast, there he and the draughtsman whom he had brought with him, took their seats. There, after much search, they were discovered after breakfast had long been kept waiting for them; but there was no occasion to make further search, for thither they returned the instant they rose from the breakfast table; there they remained till dinner. Time being precious to travellers they wasted no time after dinner, but resumed their occupation, and the evening sun went down upon them there. The next day it was the same. Never had these gods been so faithfully delineated, never had the inscriptions been so accurately copied, and so patiently investigated. But think of the inconvenience of the family!—There was the old lady of the house, a most regular person! there was her daughter-in-law, and her little grand-daughter, there was her niece, there was Lady (what is her name?), Lord Stanhope's daughter who married the country surgeon, there were I know not how many ladies besides visiting at Netherhall, for it was in the summer season of touring and visiting. And all day long, all the long summer's day, did these determined antiquarians keep their seat. A watch was kept at the windows, but in vain. The children were despatched to look in from time to time, even that hint was disregarded; Lysons and the draughtsman went on with their work, and so it continued during their whole stay; and in the traditions of Netherhall the visit of the antiquarians is remembered as the greatest event that ever occurred there, since one of the family was killed at the door of the tower by the Scotch marauders.

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