My first visit to Blenheim was on a beautiful spring day in May, 1874. Some of the Duke’s tenants and Randolph’s constituents met us at the station to give us a welcome. Taking the horses out of the carriage, they insisted on dragging us through the town to the house. The place could not have looked more glorious…. we passed through the entrance archway, and the lovely scenery burst upon me, Randolph said with pardonable pride, “This is the finest view in England.”
Looking at the lake, the bridge, the miles of magnificent park studded with old oaks, I found no adequate words to express my admiration, and when we reached the huge and stately palace, where I was to find hospitality for so many years, I confess I felt awed. But my American pride forbade the admission, and I tried to conceal my feelings, asking Randolph if Pope‘s lines were a true description of the inside:
“See, sir, here’s the grand approach;This way is for his grace’s coach:There lies the bridge, and here’s the clock;Observe the lion and the cock,The spacious court, the colonnade,And mark how wide the hall is made!The chimneys are so well design’dThey never smoke in any wind.This gallery’s contrived for walking,The windows to retire and talk in;The council chamber for debate,And all the rest are rooms of state.’‘Thanks, sir,’ cried I, ‘ ’tis very fine,But where d’ye sleep, or where d’ye dine?I find by all you have been telling,That ’tis a house, but not a dwelling.'”
The imperious Sarah, known to her contemporaries as “Great Atossa,” “Who with herself, or others, from her birthFinds all her life one warfare upon earth,” demolished the older and probably more comfortable hunting-lodge which stood in the forest. Tradition asserts that it occupied the site of the “Bower” in which “Fair Rosamond” hid her royal amours. To this day “Rosamond’s Well,” concealed among the trees, is the object of a favourite walk.
Winston on Blenheim
Her son inherited her way with words. He wrote in his biography, Lord Randolph Churchill, published in 1906:
The cumulative labours of Vanbrugh and ‘Capability’ Brown have succeeded at Blenheim in setting an Italian palace in an English park without apparent incongruity. The combination of these different ideas, each singly attractive, produces a remarkable effect. The palace is severe in its symmetry and completeness…. Natural simplicity and even confusion are, on the contrary, the characteristic of the park and gardens. Instead of that arrangement of gravel paths, of geometrical flower-beds, and of yews disciplined with grotesque exactness which the character of the house would seem to suggest, there spreads a rich and varied landscape…. And yet there is no violent contrast, no abrupt dividing-line betwee
n the wildness and freshness of the garden and the pomp of the architecture.
The whole region is as rich in history as in charm….. Here Kings—Saxon, Norman and Plantagenet—have held their Courts. Ethelred the Unready, Alfred the Great, Queen Eleanor, the Black Prince loom in vague majesty out of the past.
What we have lost
Lady Randolph’s and her son’s beautiful words always remind me of David Dilks’s remark in his discussion and later essay on The Queen and Winston Churchill:
…the monarchy signified for him something of infinite value, at once numinous and luminous; and if you will allow the remark in parenthesis, ladies and gentlemen, do you not sometimes long for someone at the summit of our public life who can think and write at that level?