If the Hon. Charles Hamilton was rewarded for his eminent taste with a sojourn in heaven, yesterday he and I were looking at the same scene. Painshill, his Surrey Elysium, was looking more perfect than he can ever have imagined it; trees grown taller in more variety, lawns smooth-shaven, follies secure in gleaming perfection and only his Temple of Bacchus still a building (or rather rebuilding) site. The brilliant low sunlight flooded each monument; Gothic eminence, craggy grotto, five-arch bridge, Chinese bridge, mausoleum, Turkish tent and the naked Sabine struggling in the bronze arms of her naked Roman captor.
It glittered on the lake in crystal reflections, picking out every detail of proud swans and gilded autumn trees. It lit the black platforms of the tallest Lebanon cedar in Britain and the bare vines of his vineyard tipped towards the water like Johannisberg towards the Rhine. When Hamilton last saw it, 250 years ago, the trees were young, the buildings they now shade and embower self-consciously new. Now he must swell with pride, and search anxiously for each new American plant, shipped with such care from Mr Bartram in Philadelphia, to see how it is acclimatising 3,000 miles from home.
His ingenious waterwheel, pumping water to the lake from the river Mole below, slowly turns like the hands of a clock marking the years, drops from its mossy paddles glinting in the sun. A team of gardeners rakes oak leaves into russet piles. Time is on holiday here – which is its habit in heaven.