Highways and Byways in Sussex - online book

An illustrated appreciation, of the most interesting districts in Sussex.

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8                          DR. JOHNSON AT COWDRAY                     ch. 1
seized his new property, and turned the monks out of the gates, in 1538. Legend says that as the last monk departed, he warned his despoiler that by fire and water his line should perish. By fire and water it perished indeed. A week after Cowdray House was burned, in 1793, the last Viscount Montagu was drowned in the Rhine. His only sister (the wife of Mr. Stephen Poyntz) who inherited, was the mother of two sons both of whom were drowned while bathing at Bognor. When Mr. Poyntz sold the estate to the Earl of Egmont, we may suppose the curse to have been withdrawn.
Among the treasures that were destroyed in the fire were the Roll of Battle Abbey and many paintings. Dr. Johnson visited Cowdray a few years before its demolition; "Sir," he said to Boswell, " I should like to stay here four-and-twenty hours. We see here how our ancestors lived." According to the Tour of Great Britain, attributed to Daniel Defoe, but probably by another hand, Cowdray's hall was of Irish oak. In the large parlour were the triumphs of Henry VIII. by Holbein. In the long gallery were the Twelve Apostles "as large as life "; while the marriage of Cupid and Psyche, a tableau that never failed to please our ancestors, was not wranting.
The glory of the Montagus has utterly passed. The pre­sent Earl of Egmont is either an absentee or he lives in a cottage near the gates; and the new house, which is hidden in trees, is of no interest. The park, however, is still ranged by its beautiful deer, and still possesses an avenue of tulip trees and rolling wastes of turf. It is everywhere as free as a heath.
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