A True-Born Englishman: Being the Life of Henry Fielding

A True-Born Englishman: Being the Life of Henry Fielding

A True-Born Englishman: Being the Life of Henry Fielding

A True-Born Englishman: Being the Life of Henry Fielding

Excerpt

IT is hay-making time and the air is full of summer scents and sounds while across the fields lie the long shadows of afternoon. Beside the tree-shaded Abbot's Way there runs a slow-flowing stream. We are approaching the birthplace of Henry Fielding -- Sharpham Park, two or three miles to the southwest of Glastonbury, a house which stands below the famous Tor.

Even in the sunshine a ghostly pallor seems to lie over the gabled frontage of the east entrance and the stump of a big acacia tree which once grew beside the front door. Built in the sixteenth century as a country retreat by Abbot Beere, the last of the great building Abbots of Glastonbury, Sharpham carries to this day certain curious signs on its gable; a Tudor rose, a pelican feeding its young, a mitre, a portcullis, and the Virgin and Babe.

Through the deep shadowy porch, its door turning on ornamental hinges and covered with a design in hammered iron, we pass upstairs to the landing and thence by three steps again into the chamber which tradition says was the birthplace of the great humorist. A fine old room it is, filled now with the westering sunshine. Behind the panelling of age-blackened oak is a secret hiding-place known as the ghost's room.

This is the Harlequin Chamber whose little window once looked out across the low roof of the chapel. Cut into the stone wall below this there was to be seen a figure, described either as a Harlequin with crossed legs playing on a viol, or a riddling rebus of a cross and two beer barrels, a play on the Abbot's name, with a hint at his conviviality as well as his religion. For all the world knows that, like the Harry Fielding who was to be, the Benedictines were famous for hospitality.

But now the shape, whatever it was, has been weathered away by the rain and wind of the centuries. Gone too is Abbot Beere's chapel with its mullioned east window, and the great oak staircase, carved in every part, even on the treads, sold for . . .

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