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Art. I.-1. Britton's Cathedral Antiquities. 2. A Brief Memoir of the Life and Writings of John Britton,
F.S.A. F.R.S.L. &c. IF you ask a well-educated American when he visits England,
what objects in the mother-country have impressed him most, he will answer-its cathedrals. He is not surprized at the activity and enterprize which he finds among us, for these are characteristics of his own countrymen not less than of ours. The wealth, the domestic comforts, the refinements and the elegances of life, which have extended themselves to the remotest parts of the island, excite in him pleasure rather than admiration, because for these also he is prepared, and may have seen them existing in as high a degree, only not so generally diffused, in the better part of the United States. In these things, as in our arts and science and literature, he sees, if not what the Americans are, what they may hope to be; while in whatever relates to national resources and national power, the comparison may call forth a sense of ambitious anticipation, perhaps of rivalry. But place him in York Minster, or Westminster Abbey, and he no longer thinks of comparing England with America; the religio loci makes itself felt; it awakens in him an ancestral feeling of which he was before unconscious, and he then begins to understand that, in the thoughts and emotions which carry us back to past ages, and connect us with the generations which are gone, there is something more soothing, more salutary for the heart, and more elevating also, than in all the anticipations with which a young and emulous nation looks onward to the future. We have heard more than one American say that it is worth crossing the Atlantic to see some of our cathedrals.
The pride with which we now regard these stately monuments of antiquity is one proof of national improvement in feeling as well as in taste and knowledge. There was a strange insensibility to their beauty as works of art till the last reign: but this was not peculiar to England. When the Délices de la Grande Bretagne were published, at the beginning of the last century, York and Canterbury were the only cathedrals which were allowed a place among
numerous prints in that work, though a whole volume is filled with bird's-eye views des belles et magnifiques maisons de
VOL. XXXIV. NO, LXVIII.
campagne. The book is the more valuable for this, because it has preserved perishable features, most of which have already past away. But the taste of the age is curiously exemplified when such edifices as Lincoln and Wells and Lichfield are overlooked, and a plan given of Marshal Tallard's garden at Nottingham, with its parterres of turf cut into squares, circles, semi-circles and ovals, et ce qui fait dans son tout ce qu'on appelle Gazon-coupé, and variegated by divisions of red sand, yellow sand, pulverized shells, pulverized coal, dust from the lead mines, and gravel walks of every procurable variety of colour! In an age when the court of France gave the law in taste, when the Isola Bella was the admiration of travellers, and when Marshal Tallard's garden was represented to foreigners as one of the beauties of England, it is no wonder if there were little feeling for the sublimities of art, and less for those of nature. The cathedrals in Roman Catholic countries were crowded with tinsel and trumpery, as incongruous to the character of the edifice, as to the spirit and letter of the Gospel. In England they were not, indeed, disgraced with dolls as large as life, in full dress, and with waxen representations of legs, arms, and other less-mentionable parts, hung up beside them in honour, ex voto, of their wonder-working virtue; but they were disfigured in other ways. Whatever was done, either to repair, or with the intention of improving them, was equally inconsistent in design and inferior in execution. When a seat, or monument, or screen, was put up, the saw and the hammer were employed to remove any inconvenient projection, however beautiful or curious. Sometimes a smooth surface was produced by plastering over the most elaborate sculpture; and the parts which were not thus effaced were covered with coats of white lime, varied occasionally with a colouring of red or yellow ochre, till the old work of the chissel was half filled up with repeated incrustations. Every improvement was in the spirit of those times when alterations of Shakspeare were perpetrated, not merely with impunity, but with applause, by Shadwell, Nahum Tate and Colley Cibber. The debasement, indeed, of our ecclesiastical architecture which immediately ensued upon the Reformation, is only less disgraceful than the destruction to which so many venerable edifices were condemned by the brutal rapacity of their lay possessors. That glorious and elevating art had attained its highest perfection, and no degradation was ever more rapid or more complete. But the Reformation was not in any degree the cause of this; it was produced by the spirit, or rather the taste, of the age, and was shown as decidedly in those kingdoms where the papal religion maintained its ground, as in England and the other reformed countries. The new churches and convents which were erected were in the basest
style; and, when any alterations were made in a cathedral, they proved, abroad as well as at home, that the architects, while the finest models were before their eyes, were not only incapable of imitating, but of understanding, and even of admiring what they
Our cathedrals had, however, by the mercy of God, been rescued from the Puritans, who, if their reign had continued and their wishes had been fulfilled, would have reduced them to the state of Elgin, and St. Andrews, and Melrose: their proper service was duly performed in them; their establishments were filled with becoming respect to character and attainments; and it must not be supposed that all feeling connected with the edifices themselves was confined to the Jack Daws, the Tom Hearnes, and the Browne Willises. Those highly-gifted minds which can resist the contagion of false taste are few in any generation; but there are whole classes who are not within the sphere of its influence. While the Town and the Wits, as they called themselves, regarded all the works of the dark ages (those of architects, chroniclers and poets alike) as altogether barbarous, these classes were in a healthier, and therefore a more gracious state: their opinions were unsophisticated; they regarded these works of their forefathers with admiration and reverence; and, instead of exalting their own times above all preceding ages, they were conscious of the humiliating truth that they should leave no such monuments to posterity. The temper of mind which leads men to depreciate and vilify what they ought to admire is an acquired sin. Admiration is like devotion, a natural as well as a generous feeling; and men must be corrupted before they become vain, and fastidious, and irreligious.
There is an anecdote related of Philip II., that, observing one day at mass a person who behaved with great irreverence, he said the man must be either a Jew or a Sacristan. If Philip had asked himself wherefore such indevotion characterized the Sacristans, it might have induced a train of thought little favourable to that system of priestcraft which he was supporting by armies abroad and autos-da-fe at home. It was not familiarity with the place, nor with the ceremony, which occasioned this want of respect, but the knowledge of what was behind the scenes. They whose business lies with observances and ceremonials are prone to exaggerate the importance of the forms in which their lives are past, attaching significance to the veriest trifles of punctilious performance. This is one effect of those avocations which contract the mind; and Philip would have had no difficulty in detecting the counteracting cause, if he had ventured to investigate it. The natural effect of local habitude is to produce local attach
ment. Every one knows how strongly this is exemplified by those who have grown old in the service of great families, or great establishments of
kind. And in great churches we have seen vergers so conformed to their place and office, that, if some miracle had transmuted them into stone, they might have taken their station in a niche or upon a monument with perfect fitness, and would have deemed it, had consciousness been left them, a sort of humble apotheosis to be there.
But such edifices produce a wider influence, operating in various ways upon different dispositions. The impression which they make upon a thoughtful, and hopeful mind in early life has undoubtedly determined many to that course of study whereby they have elevated themselves to high stations in the English Church, while they fulfilled their duty to their own and to succeeding generations. Westminster Abbey was the ultimate object of Nelson's ambition; it was in his thoughts whenever he went into battle, as the last home of all his earthly hopes. Chatterton would have been a poet, wherever he might have been born and bred, but it was Redcliff Church that made him call up the ghost of Rowley; and in that mood which local circumstances fostered he composed all those pieces by which he will be remembered. If the same influence, acting upon aptitudes of a different kind, has not created architects also, to rival the works which they admire, it is because the present state of society affords no opportunity for them. Otherwise the same feeling which induces and enables antiquaries to describe and artists to delineate the great monuments of elder times would assuredly take this direction; and it would be found that, in this also, the most magnificent of the arts, we are not inferior to our forefathers. As far as opportunity has been given this has been shown.
The humble passion of the antiquary, into which little or no ambition enters, but where patience and labour bring with them their own reward, is awakened and fostered by the same circumstance. Browne Willis, the first person who undertook a detailed and general survey of the English cathedrals, acquired his love for this pursuit by passing many of his idle hours in the Abbey when a Westminster boy. That abbey was open to the boys till of late years, when they were deprived of a liberty which produced some injury to the monuments, and some annoyance to the visitors and showmen. Browne Willis, who became one of the oddest of all odd men, had his share of peculiarities as a boy. The monuments were his books, and before he left school he imbibed there a love of churches and church antiquities which fixed the bent of his after-life. He was a great repairer of churches and steeples, attended cathedrals and churches, whenever he could so time his
visits, upon their dedication days; and when he went to Bath would lodge no where but in the Abbey-house. A lively lady described him as having, with one of the honestest hearts in the world, one of the oddest heads that ever dropt from the moon. He wrote the worst hand of any man in England : it was more unintelligible than if he had learned to write by copying the inscriptions upon old tombstones. He wore three or four coats at once, each being of a different generation, and over them an old blue cloak lined with black fustian, all of which were girt with a leathern belt, giving him the appearance of a beggar, for which he was often taken in the course of his enthusiastic wanderings. His weather-beaten wig was of a colour for which language affords no name; his slouched hat, having past the stage between black and brown, was in the same predicament as the wig; and the lower part of his equipments had obtained for him in his own neighbourhood the appellation of Old Wrinkle-Boots, for, during the wear and tear and repair of forty years, the said boots had contracted as many wrinkles as their quantum of calfskin would contain, and consequently did not reach half up the legs which they once covered. Being far too deeply engaged with past ages to bestow any portion of his thoughts and cares upon the present, he suffered a fair fortune to be deteriorated by neglecting his worldly affairs. And having lived long enough to hold a distinguished place among antiquities himself, he left behind him the character of a diligent and faithful antiquary, in which he will long continue to be remembered. Reputations of this class are not like those of fashionable authors, which come like shadows, and so depart; they keep their place, and make up in duration for what they want in extensiveness.
Browne Willis did not complete his Survey of the Cathedrals. The work became the property of Osberne, the bookseller whom Johnson immortalized by knocking him down with a folio. Osberne advertised it as comprehending accounts of all, and the author, considering this as an unwarrantable artifice, exposed the puff by a counter-advertisement. The task which he left imperfect has been undertaken by Mr. Britton, who has contributed more than
other person to the illustration of our architectural antiquities. In what manner he was led to the pursuit of these studies he has explained in a singular fragment of auto-biography, interesting enough to make us wish it had been upon a more extensive scale. The circumstances of his early life were as unlikely to give his persevering and enterprizing disposition such a direction, as those in which Browne Willis was placed were likely to foster a passion for such pursuits in a temper which was predisposed for them. Born in a Wiltshire village, and with the