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   Chapter 4 ST. PAUL'S AND ITS PRECINCTS

Highways and Byways in London By Emily Constance Baird Cook Characters: 26403

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"A deep, low, mighty tone swung through the night. At first I knew it not; but it was uttered twelve times, and at the twelfth colossal hum and trembling knell, I said, 'I lie in the shadow of St. Paul's.' ... The next day I awoke, and saw the risen sun struggling through fog. Above my head, above the housetops, co-elevate almost with the clouds, I saw a solemn, orbed mass, dark-blue and dim-the Dome. While I looked, my inner self moved; my spirit shook its always-fettered wings half loose; I had a sudden feeling as if I, who had never yet truly lived, were at last about to taste life: in that morning my soul grew as fast as Jonah's gourd."-Charlotte Bront?: "Villette."

"See! how shadowy,

Of some occult magician's rearing,

Or swung in space of heaven's grace

Dissolving, dimly reappearing,

Afloat upon ethereal tides

St. Paul's above the city rides."-John Davidson.

St. Paul's is the central object of the City. As the typical view of Rome must ever show, not any "purple Caesar's dome," but the violet, all-pervading cupola of St. Peter's,-so, also, must the typical view of London ever show the faint, misty, grey-blue dome of St. Paul's. And St. Paul's is more to us than this. Even to dwellers in the West-End, inexperienced in City life, that guardian spirit of the mother-church, brooding silently over the far-off, dimly-imagined heart of the City, is a vital part-a necessary factor-of London life. The mighty smoke-begrimed cathedral, the monument of Wren's genius, the abiding angel of the City, has it not a place in the inmost affections of every Englishman worthy of the name whether near or far? The shrines of other lands, of other nations, may win his outspoken admiration; St. Paul's has ever his heart. For this, at least, is his inheritance, his very own.

Fighting Cocks.

Blue-grey, veiled in mystery when viewed from a distance, St. Paul's, seen from its immediate surroundings, has all the wonder of a dramatic effect. Suddenly, from the glare and bustle of Cheapside, from the tumult of the crowded highway, a gigantic, blackened mass rises in startling completeness immediately overhead, towering with almost night-mare like rapidity ever higher as we advance. Seen behind the tall white buildings and shops of its so-called "churchyard," that hem it in, St. Paul's makes an impression that is indescribably grand. Especially in spring, when the first tender leaves of its surrounding plane-trees interpose their young greenery in delicate labyrinths between the dark, massive walls of the cathedral and the ever hurrying life outside them, should St. Paul's be visited for the first time.

There has from immemorial times been a church here; tradition even suggests a Roman temple on the site. But, though the "spirit" has ever been constant, the "letter" (so to speak), has often changed. At any rate Wren's masterpiece is the third Christian church, dedicated to St. Paul, erected here since early Saxon times. Though Wren's life-work was not rewarded, like Milton's, with "twenty pounds paid in instalments, and a near approach to death on the gallows," yet he, too, had but scant justice in his day. National benefits, even in our own time, are often but ill rewarded. Thwarted, wretchedly paid, suspected, and finally, at great age, and after forty-five years' hard service, deposed from the post he had so long and so ably filled; the "Nestor" of his age, with a spirit worthy of a more enlightened time, betook himself cheerfully to his old study of philosophy, and only once in every year, we are told, indulged his master-passion by having himself carried to St. Paul's to gaze in silence on his life-work.

St. Paul's from the River.

The highest point of the city would, naturally, from very early times be chosen as the sanctuary; and St. Paul's stands grandly on the top of Ludgate Hill, its western portico almost facing the steep street of that name. That it does not do so more exactly, is due to the haste of the people in rebuilding their houses after the Great Fire; such haste occasioning the reconstruction of the city more on the old lines, than on those of Wren. For the great cathedral took some thirty-five years to complete, and streets grow again more quickly than edifices destined for the monuments of nations. And, before the new church could be begun, the useless ruins of its predecessor had to be removed. The Great Fire had calcined its stones and undermined the safety of its walls. Such, indeed was the devastation of this terrible holocaust, that even to this day, its relics and débris may be traced in distinct thin layers, at certain distances under the soil, all over the area of the City. The ruin can hardly be imagined, even from Pepys's and Evelyn's vivid diaries. Small wonder indeed, that it should be thought by the credulous that the end of the world, the Last Judgment, had truly come. Some, later, held that the "purification" of the old church by fire had been the one thing needed after its desecration in the Commonwealth times to a house of traffic and merchandize, even sometimes to a stable. The church had become a mere promenade; "Paul's Walkers" had been the names given to loungers in the sacred edifice; gallants using it as a place of pastime, beggars as a resting-place, and Inigo Jones's beautiful portico at the west end being all built up with squalid shops. The people were gradually awakening to a sense of these enormities: had cleared out those unholy traffickers;-were, indeed, in process of restoring the church,-when, in 1666, the fire came to complete the purification. Then, when the destruction of the city was complete, the common people with one accord, pronounced it to be the work of the "Popish faction," and not content with the mere verbal condemnation, caused this accusation of incendiarism to be graven deeply on Wren's commemorating monument, a calumny only removed after the lapse of ages.

Old St. Paul's, the second church of that name on this site, had been built in the Conqueror's time; it was a large Gothic building, a vista of noble arches, 700 feet long, with a tall spire, which was subsequently struck by lightning and removed. It had a twelve-bayed nave and a twelve-bayed choir, with a fine wheel-window at the east end, and with two smaller satellites, St. Faith and St. Gregory,-the one inside its very walls,-the other built on to it outside. On being called upon to rebuild from the very foundations, Wren "resolved to reconcile as near as possible the Gothic with a better manner of architecture;" and, without ever having seen St. Peter's, he produced what is really an adaptation of that central Renaissance building of Christianity. It is much smaller: St. Paul's could go easily inside St. Peter's; yet, in the position it occupies, hemmed in by streets and houses, it looks deceptively much bigger. There is a pleasant story told, that in the beginning of its building, Wren sent a workman to fetch from the surrounding débris, a stone wherewith to mark out the centre of the dome; and this happening to be an old gravestone, inscribed "Resurgam," it was held to be a happy omen. (The word "Resurgam," over the north portico, with a ph?nix, by Cibber, commemorates this story.) Wren was very careful about the strength of his foundations; "I build for eternity," he said, with the true confidence of genius.

More than two centuries have now elapsed since the first opening of the new St. Paul's for service, and these two centuries have established, as time alone can do, the fame and the genius of Wren. Time here, as ever, has delivered the final verdict. The great cathedral dominates the City, harmonising, ennobling, purifying the serried mass of its surroundings; it is the coping-stone of London's greatness. The verdict of later times has done justice to Wren's judgment, and many of his intentions regarding the details of the edifice, thwarted in his lifetime by ignorant contemporaries, have now been carried out. Thus, the organ has been moved from its former place over the iron-wrought screen between choir and nave, (where it marred the architectural effect of the edifice), to the north-east arch of the choir, the position originally planned for it by Wren; the tall outside railing of the churchyard, which, Wren said, dwarfed the base of the cathedral, has been removed; the mosaics he asked for now incrust, in shining glory, the central dome; and, if the grand "baldacchino" he wanted has not been placed in the choir, there is, instead, a very sumptuous modern reredos. The balustrade that surmounts the main building was not intended by Wren, but insisted on by the Commissioners for the building; and its erection caused Wren to say, not, perhaps, without sly intention: "I never designed a balustrade; but ladies think nothing well without an edging."

This, however, was long ago; Wren sleeps in peace in his cathedral crypt; and there, on the top of Ludgate Hill, St. Paul's stands, blackening ever, year by year, yet gaining immeasurably through that very blackness. It has been said, wittily, that the great church has a special claim to its livery of smoke, for the reason that a great part of the cost of its building was defrayed by a tax on all coals brought into the port of London! And this canopy of solemn black, out of which the dome, lantern, and golden ball emerge at intervals, in silver and gold, becomes it well.

"There cannot," wrote Hawthorne, "be anything else in its way so good in the world as just this effect of St. Paul's in the very heart and densest tumult of London. It is much better than staring white; the edifice would not be nearly so grand without this drapery of black."

The ancient monuments of St. Paul's were nearly altogether destroyed with the old church; Wren's cathedral was inaccessible to any new monuments for some years, the first admitted to it being that of John Howard the philanthropist in 1790. This was followed by many others, chiefly of great warriors, soldiers and sailors; although ecclesiastics also are numerous, and there is a goodly company of painters.

"If Westminster Abbey," said C. R. Leslie, "has its Poets' Corner, so has St. Paul's its Painters' Corner. Sir Joshua Reynolds's statue, by Flaxman, is here, and Reynolds himself lies buried here; and Barry, and Opie, and Lawrence are around him; and, above all, the ashes of the great Van Dyck are in the earth under the cathedral."

Turner now lies next to Reynolds. Yet, as a rule, the great commemorated in St. Paul's are of a different type to those of Westminster. Both churches are the mausoleums of heroes; St. Paul's being, however, by common consent the resting-place of the Militant, Westminster of the Pacific. The statue of Dr. Johnson, under the dome, opposes that of Howard. Though his dust rests in Westminster Abbey, the militant spirit of the Sage well deserves commemoration in St. Paul's. His representation, in the curious art of the time, as a half-clothed muscular athlete, is appropriately supplemented by that of Howard, bare-legged, with Roman toga and tunic. The coincidence of Johnson holding a scroll, and Howard a prison key, has caused the two to be sometimes mistaken by visitors for St. Peter and St. Paul! But not all the monumental vagaries are as innocuous as these. Westminster Abbey does not alone suffer from the bad taste of the Renaissance; a few of the monuments of St. Paul's are alike trials to the eyes as to the faith. The naked warriors in sandals, receiving swords from, or falling into the arms of, smart feminine "Victories,"-lusus naturae with wings protruding from their shoulders,-are, indeed, sad instances of the too rampant eighteenth-century exuberance of fancy. Of the monuments, for instance, to Captains Burgess and Westcott, Allan Cunningham remarks:

"The two naval officers (Westcott and Burgess), are naked, which destroys historic probability; it cannot be a representation of what happened, for no British warriors go naked into battle, or wear sandals or Asiatic mantles.... When churchmen declared themselves satisfied, the ladies thought they might venture to draw near, but the flutter of fans and the averting of faces was prodigious. That Victory, a modest and well-draped dame, should approach an undrest dying man, and crown him with laurel, might be endured-but, how a well-dressed young lady could think of presenting a sword to a naked gentleman went far beyond all their notions of propriety."

Neither is the ugly group of the Bishop of Calcutta, ogre-like in size, apparently confirming two Indian dwarfs, at all calculated to excite any feeling but amusement.

The great cathedral has, nevertheless, also its monumental treasures. Under the third arch on the north of the nave, is the noble monument of the Duke of Wellington, by Alfred Stevens; the aged Duke lying, "like a Scaliger of Verona, deeply sleeping upon a lofty bronze sarcophagus." One thinks of Tennyson's lines:

"Here in streaming London's central roar,

Let the sound of those he wrought for,

And the feet of those he fought for,

Echo round his bones for evermore."

And near to him, in the north ai

sle of the nave, under the tattered banners of those old regiments that fell in the Crimea, lies, on a pedestal of Greek cipollino, the recumbent bronze effigy of that recent recruit to the ranks of dead painters, Lord Leighton of Stretton. The monument, worthy of the best traditions of art, is by Brock. The beautiful features of the dead President are composed in a sublime peace; he "is not dead, but sleepeth"; "yet it is visibly a sleep that shall know no ending, till the last day break, and the last shadow flee away." The long robe droops to the feet, the hands that toiled unweariedly for beauty and for immortal art, now lie motionless on the breast. The tattered flags that hang above, have, here, too, their significance,-hanging over one, who in the many-sidedness of his genius and his interests, was in his time one of the pioneers of the Volunteer movement. The Leonardo of his age has here a fitting memorial.

Near to Lord Leighton's fine tomb is that of General Gordon, a bronze monument and effigy by Boehm. He "who at all times, and everywhere, gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, and his heart to God" is fitly remembered in death. When I last saw this monument, on the hero's breast lay a fresh bunch of violets, on his either side were the symbolic palm branches, and at his feet a wreath of white flowers. Near by is the imposing bronze doorway, the "gate of the tomb," erected to Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria's first Prime Minister. Of the supporting angels on either side of the plinth, that on the left, especially, is very impressive.

But the bell calls to service, and the rolling organ-tones resound in the blue dome, where Richmond's mosaics glitter like diamonds in the stray gleams of sunshine that glance athwart the abyss. The mosaics, like all innovations in this ungrateful city, have, of course, run the gauntlet of abuse, on the ground of smallness and ineffectiveness; yet the Monreale mosaics, so admired at Palermo, are more or less on the same scale, and are, also, at a considerable height. But it is difficult for contemporaries to judge fairly, and Time, no doubt, here as elsewhere, will kindly do the work of discrimination for us.

In the crypt are the half-destroyed remains of monuments from the older church, with Nelson's sarcophagus, Wren's simple tomb, and many others. But, outside St. Paul's, the sunlight still calls us, and, from the depths of the dim recesses and aisles of the great cathedral, we regain now the brilliant summit of Ludgate Hill, brilliant with the noonday spring sun. Now the sounds of many-sided life invade the repose of death; and a noisy street-organ, playing near Queen Anne's statue, mingles its note strangely with the cathedral's still pealing bells. The pigeons, gay in colour, flit down from their homes in among the blackened garlands, Corinthian capitals, and pediments; it is a strange and a motley scene. And, down at the bottom of the great flight of steps that lead from the western portico, the Twentieth-century visitor will now see a new landmark; for here, cut deeply into the pavement, is the record of the latest great ceremonial function of St. Paul's: Queen Victoria's visit here on the sixtieth anniversary of her reign. Here, on this very spot, surrounded by Archbishops, priests, and people, the royal and aged lady sat in her carriage, paying homage to a Heavenly Throne, and receiving, surely, greater homage than was ever before paid to an earthly one:-

"On a lovely June morning, in the year 1897, a wondrous pageant moved through the enchanted streets of London. Squadron by squadron, and battery by battery, a superb cavalry and artillery went by-the symbol of the fighting strength of the United Kingdom. There went by also troops of mounted men, more carelessly riding and more lightly equipped-those who came from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa to give a deeper meaning to the royal triumph; and black-skinned soldiers and yellow, and the fine representatives of the Indian warrior races. Generals and statesmen went by, and a glittering cavalcade of English and Continental princes, and the whole procession was a preparation-for what? A carriage at last, containing a quiet-looking old lady, in dark and simple attire; and at every point where this carriage passed through seven miles of London streets, in rich quarters and poor, a shock of strong emotion shot through the spectators, on pavement and on balcony, at windows and on housetops. They had seen the person in whom not only were vested the ancient kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, but who was also at once the symbol and the actual bond of union of the greatest and most diversified of secular empires."[1]

The inscription, cut, with Roman simplicity, into the broad paving-stone, runs thus:

HERE QUEEN VICTORIA

RETURNED THANKS TO

ALMIGHTY GOD FOR THE

SIXTIETH ANNIVERSARY

OF HER ACCESSION.

June 22, a.d. 1897.

By how many generations,-for how many centuries,-will these words, I wonder, be read,-the distant message of Time from the buried Victorian Era?

Beyond, Queen Anne's statue, in flowing curls and a "sacque" robe, stands, with some dignity, facing busy Ludgate Hill, and surrounded by a circular, prison-like grating. Down towards noisy Fleet Street her gaze wanders; down to where the rumble of many wheels, the sound of many voices, make a distant murmur like the stormy sea, broken, at intervals, by a shriek from that most picturesque of railways, the iron "Bridge of Steam," that, ever and anon, emits a puff of smoke and a red spark into the general "fermenting-vat," the ingulfing vortex of life and energy below. For this is the roaring Niagara of London, the loom of Time, that never ceases, that ever fashions Order out of Disorder, ever, as by a magician's wand, raises system out of chaos. Kings, and even thrones, may "pass to rise no more;" but the busy ph?nix-heart of London, like the vestals' fire, must ceaselessly burn; ever fed, ever renewed, ever immortal, ever young.

"Lord Tennyson always delighted in the 'central roar' of London. Whenever he and I (says his son) "went to London, one of the first things we did was to walk to the Strand and Fleet Street. 'Instead of the stuccoed houses in the West End, this is the place where I should like to live,' he would say." He was also fond of looking at London from the bridges over the Thames, and of going into St. Paul's, and into the Abbey. One day in 1842 Fitzgerald records a visit to St. Paul's with him when he said, 'Merely as an enclosed space in a huge city this is very fine,' and when they got out into the open, in the midst of the 'central roar,' 'This is the mind; that is a mood of it.'"-(Tennyson's Life, i. 183.)

St. Michael's, Paternoster Royal.

Round about St. Paul's are many and labyrinthine lanes and alleys, with no less labyrinthine associations. Some of these alleys are, like Paternoster Row, or St. Paul's Churchyard, by day crowded aortas of human traffic; others, by strange contrast, are silent and still as the grave. London is, as we know, full of unexpected nooks of quiet; and none, in their way, are more sudden and startling than those about St. Paul's. From busy Paternoster Row, with its array of religious book-shops of all denominations,-so crowded, and yet so narrow, that a man on one of its sidewalks can, by stretching, almost grasp the hand of a man on the other (or could perhaps do so, were it not so constantly blocked by multifarious traffic),-from noisy Paternoster Row to the calm of "Amen Court,"-the quadrangle of canons' residences opening out of it,-what a change! Here, in Amen Court, entered by a pleasant, sober red-brick gateway, Canon Liddon's last days were spent; here are quiet, old-fashioned houses looking, in summer, on to green plots and refreshing shrubs. All this seclusion, and yet the very heart of London! Warwick Square, close by, is a haven of another sort; a stony square set round with tall offices; roomy houses, perhaps formerly residential mansions, with here and there an attractively carved antique porch, or other relic of the past. It was under a house in this square, in rebuilding, that various Roman remains were recently found. In Paternoster Row, at the corner of "Chapter-house Court," was, in old days, the "Chapter" Coffee House, where the old medical club of the "Wittenagemot" was held, and where, later, Charlotte and Anne Bront? came on their first visit to London, after the successful publication of Jane Eyre, to make their real personalities known to their publishers, in 1848. Two little lonely, strangely-dressed women they must have seemed!-their only friend the elderly waiter of the establishment, who no doubt, took an interest in such unusual visitors. Yet, what excitement must they not have felt in seeing, for the first time, all that they had read and dreamed of for years! One is reminded of the story of their brother Branwell, that unhappy child of genius and temptation, who, at lonely Haworth Parsonage, knew all "the map of London by heart" without ever having been there, and who could direct any chance stranger who happened, going Londonwards, to put up at the remote Yorkshire inn.

"Panyer Alley," the last entry leading into Newgate Street, commemorates the bakers' basket-makers, or "Panyers," of the fourteenth century. Here, built into the wall of a modern house and nearly obliterated, was, till quite recently, a relief of a boy sitting on a "panyer," with this curious inscription:

"When Ye have sought

The Citty Round

Yet still This is

The Highest Ground

Avgvst the 27

1688."

Close by used to be the tavern called "Dolly's Chop-House," removed in 1883. The views obtained of the Cathedral, down some of these narrow byways, are very striking:

"There is a passage leading from Paternoster Row to St. Paul's Churchyard. It is a slit, through which the Cathedral is seen more grandly than from any other point I can call to mind. It would make a fine dreamy picture, as we saw it one moonlight night, with some belated creatures resting against the walls in the foreground-mere spots set against the base of Wren's mighty work, that, through the narrow opening, seemed to have its cross set against the sky."

The famous open-air pulpit called "Paul's" or "Powle's" Cross-noted for so many eloquent and impassioned harangues from medi?val divines,-for the proclamation of kings,-for the denunciation of traitors,-used to stand at the north-east corner of the churchyard. It was a canopied cross, raised on stone steps; a big elm marked its site until some fifty years back. Open-air services, discontinued after the demolition of "Paul's Cross," were attempted to be revived by Wesley and Whitefield; and, even in our own day, an open-air pulpit is used, in summer, at Trinity Church, Marylebone Road, and largely attended, as any one who passes by Portland Road Station on Sunday afternoon may see for himself. Public confession for crime was also made at "Paul's Cross," and Jane Shore did penance here, as described by Sir Thomas More. East of St. Paul's, where now a line of tall warehouses rises, was, until 1884, St. Paul's School, founded in 1509 by Dean Colet, friend of Erasmus, and now removed to new red brick buildings at Hammersmith; a tablet on one of the warehouses marks its site. The old fashioned Deanery of St. Paul's,-a homely building, not unlike a quiet country rectory, with red tiled sloping roofs, and nearly hidden behind high walls,-is in Dean's Court, just south of the cathedral. Close by it is St. Paul's Choristers' School, built in 1874 by Dean Church.

Returning to the portico of the north transept, it is pleasant to sit awhile in St Paul's Churchyard, where the doves coo and the pigeons flutter. Or if you stand by the iron gate of the enclosure, and raise your eyes to the blackened walls and columns, you will see, above the north porch, an inscription on a tablet, perpetuating the memory of the great builder, "in four words which comprehend his merit and his fame:" "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice." (If thou seekest his monument, look around.) "The visitor," says Leigh Hunt, "does look around, and the whole interior of the Cathedral ... seems like a magnificent vault over his single body." And, gazing, in this sense, on the great man's tomb, the burning words of Ecclesiasticus suggest themselves, read by the Bishop of Stepney at the unveiling of Lord Leighton's monument:

"Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning.... Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent in their instructions.... All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times. There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there lie, which have no memorial ... but ... their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore."

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