John of Padua

George Walter Thornbury

A legend of Longleat.

John of Padua duly came,
A grave wise man with a dark pale face.
He sat him dowir with a pondering brow,
And rule and compass to plan and trace
Each door and window, and terrace and wall,
And the tower that should rise to crown them all.

Ha! many a summer sunrise found
Wise John at his great and patient toil,
At his squares and circles, and legends and lines,
And many a night he burnt the oil,
Till the house with its pillared porch began
To slowly grow in the brain of that man.

Long lines of sunny southern wall,
With mullioned windows, row on row,
And balustrades, and parapets,
Where the western wind should wildly blow;
And cresting all the vanes, to burn
And glisten over miles of fern.

When thirteen Junes had burnt away,
The house arose as out of a dream:
Wide and stately, and tall and fair,
With windows to catch the sunset gleam;
Fifteen fair miles of subject lands
Girdle it round where it proudly stands.

Two hundred feet of western front,
And chapel and turret, and acres of roof,
And porch, and staircase, and welcoming hall,
And gate that would keep no beggar aloof;
Three kings had died since it began,
And John had grown old and pale and wan.

One day the builder smiling sat,
His red-lined parchments slowly rolled,
His work was ended,—the night had come,—
He bound and numbered them, fold by fold ;
And sat as gravely in the sun,
As if his toil had scarce begun.

Yes, there his life's work stately stood,
With its shining acres of beaten lead,
Its glittering windows, row on row,
That centuries hence, when he was dead,
Should shine as they were shining then,—
A landmark unto other men.

And there were the long white terraces,
And the great wide porch, like an open hand
Stretched out to welcome, and the tower
That rose like a fountain o'er the land;
And the great elms bosoming round the walls,
The singing-birds' green citadels.

They found him there when daybreak came,
In the selfsame posture, selfsame place,
But the plans had dropped from his thin wan hands,
A frozen smile was on his face;
And when they spoke no word he said,
For John of Padua sat there—dead!

Longleat in Wiltshire, is one of the great houses of England and is the seat of the Marquess of Bath.  The house was built by the architect, John of Padua, who also built the first Somerset House. Construction of the present house began in 1567, after the original building burned down. It had previously been a priory.

Longleat is a famous tourist attraction, not only because it is one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture, but also because of its safari park.