I profess to write, not his panegyrick, which must be all praise, but his
Life; which, great and good as he was, must not be supposed to be entirely
Perfect. BOSWELL, Life of Johnson
WHERE a thin slip of Hertfordshire reaches into Buckingham, the Chilterns pile up quietly into a theatre of soft hills. The enclosures have an unusual elegance; the bright green grass seems richer, perhaps because of the contrasts of white and pale grey and dark green, which come from the white flocks on the slopes, and the beech woods which crown the hills. The turf is thick and the hillsides sunny; the avenues of limes vault gracefully, protectively through the parks of ancient manors and new estates. But in the woods, where in 1066 William the Conqueror brought Edgar Atheling to submission, there are still awful shades of darkness. In the eighteenth century, within these hills, nature reveals her most carefully regulated moods. The landscape has gentility--and simplicity, for divisions are straightforward and plain, yet easy.
At the base of this finger of county, twenty-six miles from London, is Berkhamsted. The town had had many splendid associations (the honour, castle, and manor of Berkhamsted belonged to the Crown until the middle of the nineteenth century), but in 1731 when William Cowper was born in the Rectory, only about fifteen hundred people were living there, in a few hundred houses. There were three or four lanes and two principal streets: the High, part of an old Roman road, which was half a mile long and ran parallel to the small still River Bulbourne; and the other, Castle Street, which led to the ruins of the Conqueror's castle. Here Chaucer had been Clerk of the Works, but