Kenilworth in its prime was far superior to Warwick. Its outer wall enclosed a space of seven acres; ten thousand soldiers were required to guard it; and Elizabeth's fascinating suitor, Leicester, to whom she had presented it, expended on its decorations nearly half a million dollars. Imposing and magnificent it must have been when Leicester gave his entertainments in the famous banquet-hall; for then, as a historian of the time declares, its hundreds of illumined windows blazed like the ancient Alexandrine Pharos, which rose resplendent from the coast of Egypt. Even now, though utterly dismantled by the troops of Cromwell, it is still beautiful; while the historic memories of a place owned by a royal favorite, and visited not only by Queen Elizabeth, but, no doubt, scores of times by Shakespeare from his neighboring town, appeal to us more powerfully than those of any other castle in Old England.
One day, in the early part of the present century, a stranger visited these ruins, asked many questions in regard to them, and was seen for several hours walking about and taking notes of all that he observed. He spoke with a broad Scotch accent, and limped a little as he walked. When he was gone the guardian looked at the Visitors' Book to find who he might be. His curiosity was gratified; for the stranger was none other than Sir Walter Scott, who subsequently wrote the novel "Kenilworth," which will, perhaps, be read by generations yet unborn, when the old castle's towers shall have crumbled into dust.
Ruins Of Kenilworth Castle.
As we compare the buildings of the past and present, it is a partial consolation for the fact that such magnificent abodes as Kenilworth are now ruins that, even in the period of their glory, they must have been lacking in a multitude of comforts, which we now deem essential to our happiness.
"O, the pleasant days of old, which so often people praise! True, they wanted all the luxuries that grace our modern days; Bare floors were strewed with rushes, the walls let in the cold; O, how they must have shivered in those pleasant days of old!
O, the gentle dames of old! who, quite free from fear or pain, Could gaze on joist and tournament and see their champions slain; They lived on good beefsteaks and ale, which made them strong and bold, - O, more like men than women were those gentle dames of old!
O, those mighty towers of old! with their turrets, moat and keep, Their battlements and bastions, their dungeons dark and deep. Full many a baron held his court within the castle bold; And many a captive languished there, in those strong towers of old!
Part Of The Banquet Hall, Kenilworth.
O, those blessed times of old, with their chivalry and state! I love to read their chronicles, which such brave deeds relate; I love to sing their ancient rhymes, to hear their legends told, - But, Heaven be thanked! 1 live not in those blessed times of old!"
Within the lovely section of England which includes both Kenilworth and Warwick is another spot precious to every English-speaking traveler, - Stratford-on-Avon, the home of Shakespeare. On entering the town Americans usually put up at the "Red Horse Hotel." To lodge elsewhere would seem to them almost unpatriotic, since it was here that Washington Irving resided during his stay in Stratford, nearly seventy years ago; and here he wrote those exquisite reflections, which still attract us to the charming pages of his "Sketch Book." The room which Irving occupied is now kept consecrated to his memory, and the mahogany arm-chair in which the author sat on the memorable evening he has described is distinguished by a brass plate bearing his name. Beside it, within easy reach, is also placed the poker which Irving playfully called his "sceptre," since with this, as with a magic wand, he fancied that he ruled that night the spirits of the mighty dead, and called them up before him at his will. It is appropriate, therefore, that upon its side, in finely engraved characters, are the words: "Geoffrey Crayon's Sceptre." A score of photographs had made the house of Shakespeare so familiar to me for years that I was hardly prepared for the wave of feeling that rolled over me when I beheld the actual building in which the grandest poet of the world first saw the light. A calmer, closer scrutiny, however, made the exterior of the house seem disappointing. Its walls have been so frequently and carefully restored that its real age appears almost incredible. Nor is it in itself attractive. It fronts upon the street. No shade trees are around it. No avenue leads up to it. No garden gives to it the least retirement. One feels that, if young Shakespeare could have been consulted, he would have chosen a different birthplace.