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TRACY R. TWYMAN | Shugborough Hall

By Tracy R. Twyman

Originally written for Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, Copyright 1998
(Does not necessarily represent author’s current viewpoint.)

When Charles Radclyffe escaped from Newgate Prison in 1714, avoiding the deadly fate of his brother, James, his escape was assisted by his cousin, the earl of Lichfield. Although that particular line became extinct later in the 1700s, the title of earl of Lichfield was bought by the Anson family, and is retained to this very date. Their family seat currently rests at Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire. It had once been the home of the brother of George Anson, who was famous for circumnavigating the globe. And when the old “nautonnier” George Anson died in 1762, a curious poem was read aloud by in Parliament by friends of his — one which appeared to refer to the very elements of Nicolas Poussin’s painting, The Shepherds of Arcadia. It read:

“Upon that storied marble cast thine eye.
The scene commands a moralising sigh.
E’en in Arcadia’s bless’d plains,
Amidst the laughing nymphs and sportive swains,
See festal joy subside, with melting grace,
And pity visit the half-smiling face;
Where now the dance, the lute, the nuptial feast,
The passion throbbing in the lover’s breast,
Life’s emblem here, in youth, and vernal bloom,
But reason’s finger pointing at the tomb!”

What makes the connection to Poussin even more explicit is that right there on the Shugborough Hall property there stands a marble bas-relief bearing an exact mirror-reversal of Poussin’s The Shepherds of Arcadia. Called “the Shepherd’s Monument,” it was made by Peter Scheemakers in the 1700s, and beneath the relief we find written a code which, until recently, had not been deciphered. It said:

O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.
D. M.

The likeliest explanation has come from an 18th century poem by Anna Seward called The Swan of Lichfield, which contains two lines that, apart from a single letter, the above code is a perfect anagram for. They read:

“Out your Own Sweet Vale, Alicia
Vanisheth Vanity ‘Twixt Deity and Man thou Shepherdeth the Way.”