England – Chichester

” THE Bird and the Swallow ” was a wise little inn. It had known just where to place itself when there was a cathedral in town to be looked at. The next morning we awoke to encounter the charm of a surprise. Our windows, we found, opened directly on the cathedral. The whole of the beautiful western façade rose in noble dignity beyond the trees in the green close, whose branches almost rustled against our windows.

Our breakfast, that morning, promised to prolong itself into an indefinite feast. The mise-en-scène in our coley little sitting-room was altogether perfect. ” The Bird and the Swallow,” we confided to each other over the crisp toast, was to be numbered among the ideal inns. That conclusion had been reached the night before, when a particularly pretty barmaid and the stout and matronly innkeeper’s wife had preceded us to our rooms with flaring candles and a pot of hot tea.

” It’ll warm ye, ma’am, and ease ye after yer long drive, ma’am ; but the gentleman ’11 have a toddy, now, won’t he ? — a drop of hot Scotch ? ”

Such delicate discrimination merited its just re-ward. Is it necessary to add that the stout landlady won our hearts at once ? She had been the first innkeeper who had really appeared glad to see us. The ” Norfolk Arms ” was much too splendid an establishment to be moved by the coming or the going of travellers. Our waiter had preserved to the last an impassive composure and indifference, seeming to be fully conscious of what was expected of one who lived so near to the best society. But the Chichester inn was provincial, — uncompromisingly, unblushingly, avowedly provincial. The landlady was not above showing her pleasure at the coming of travellers the size of whose trunks and whose general air of fatigue promised a more or less lengthy stay in the dull season. She had bustled about our rooms as if she were doing the honors of her own house, — giving a twitch to the white chintz curtains, rearranging chairs to take the stiff look out of the room, and altogether behaving as a human being should whose business in life it was to make travellers comfortable and to make money out of them.

“I presume it will be charged in the bill, all this extra pains and extra cordiality, but I don’t mind. One gets at least what one pays for ; and, besides, she really works for it. See how hot and puffy she is getting ! ”

She was purple as she tried to lift one of the heavy handbags on the rack ; but she was smiling as if she were enjoying it. The real misery would have been to be a degree less hot and less officious. Then we tried to picture to ourselves any American boarding-house keeper working herself into that crimson heat of active zeal.

” No American woman could, you know. Either she would be so thin and tired, she would n’t have muscular energy to spare, or else she would be above it, — above waiting on her ‘guests.’ She would ring a bell, which no one would answer, and it would end in your carrying your own bag. There is nothing like a democracy for inuring the upper classes into doing their own work. I prefer a monarchy myself, where there is somebody left in the class below you who is willing, for a consideration, to wait on you.”

Boston only laughed. Ile was too weary just then to reply. But I could see that the excellences of the English system produced their effect when, the next morning, we descended to our sitting-room to find a snowy table laid with bits of old china and silver, set close to a window, through which the sun was shining cheerily, with the gray and mottled cathedral mass uplifting its greatness beyond the tree-tops. We finished our meal, only to discover, as we leaned farther out of the window to gain a freer view of the spire, that beyond, at the right of the cathedral, rose a beautiful square tower. It was the campanile, — the only detached bell-tower adjoining a cathedral now existing in England. It was a rugged, massive structure, as different as possible from the slender, graceful campaniles that rise into the melting Italian skies ; but its gray stones were full of color, and were peculiarly rich in shadows, which we found were perpetually haunting its fine octagonal crown and girdling its turrets.

At the other end of the street, placed at just the right angle to make it a perfect pendant to the campanile, was another structure, — one so unique, so unusual, and so altogether lovely as to send us forth into the street that we might gain a nearer view.

Was Chichester to be a series of surprises ? Was the little city a museum of architectural chef-d’oeuvres . We had expected the cathedral, but had been told that the town was dull. Yet here were three buildings, brought within the focus of our sitting-room windows, which merely to look upon would repay one for many miles of travel. Who are those ingenious ignoramuses who write the guide-books, whose dexterity for telling us the things we don’t want to know about is only equalled by their criminal incapacity when dealing with the things which are really worth while ? Perhaps, however, we really are more deeply in the debt of these self-constituted misleaders than we willingly own. How truly dull would travel be if all travellers were wise ! If it be true that happiness lies more in acquisition than in possession, the truism must hold that in travel the chief charm is to be found in the act of discovery rather than in the enjoyment of the thing discovered. Ergo, a well-written guide-book would defeat the chief end of one’s journey.

The name of the beautiful structure we found on consulting the Chichester guide-book to be the Market Cross. There was certainly no appearance of any salable merchandise ; nor, at a first glance, did there seem to be any signs to mark its remote resemblance to a cross. It was a perfect octagon, whose eight-arched openings made a circular arcade. In the centre of the little building was a massive pillar, from which, as branches grow out of a palm, the finely groined roof shot forth its thick ribs. Its exterior blossomed with ornaments, flowering into richly decorated finials and flying buttresses, and budding into a wealth of cusps. About the whole little structure there was a delightful luxuriance and efflorescence. It had evidently bloomed into beauty at a wonderfully perfect moment of the later Gothic inspiration.

The Cross being placed at the juncture of the four principal streets of the little city, its arcade formed the natural crossing for the street passengers. Beneath the vaulted roof there was a cease-less patter and echo of passing footsteps, of broken speech and laughter, — the noise of people meeting, talking, and parting. It was as if a huge umbrella had been opened, beneath which all the townsfolk had come to take refuge for a moment of time away from the dazzle of the sunshine and the noonday glare.

It now serves, doubtless, as wise and admirable an end, we said to each other, as the original pur-pose which its founder had in view. It had been given to the city, in the latter part of the fifteenth century, by one of the artist-bishops of the cathedral, to the end that it might delight his own eyes by its beauty and relieve the city from an extortionate tax. The poor farmers of the neighbor-hood were here provided with a shelter where they might sell their produce — their eggs, butter, and other articles — free from toll.

We have changed all that in these days. The poor still pay toll, but we call it by a loftier name ; and so the Cross is a market no longer, but the open-air lounging-chair of every weary or idle soul who cares to give his leisure an airing.

We were neither weary nor willingly idle ; but we sat there, and still continued to sit, finding it too perfect a point of observation to leave. All the life and hubbub of the little city were about us. At least half a dozen streets were in full view. Instead of a dull city, as we looked out upon its busy life, we found it uncommonly sprightly. There was a brisk commercial stir and life bustling up and down its streets. There were so many shops, one was not surprised at the multiplicity of buyers. The women had the eager air common to the sex when there are plenty of shop-windows bristling with novelties. There was a modishness in their attire, suggestive of the significant conclusion that some of those tempting London fashions were being worn by the happy buyers with a genteel consciousness of an elegance superior to the prevailing provincial styles. There was another cause which awakened our suspicions that something else besides the natural instinct of the sex for wearing only the latest conceits of fashion may have inspired the smart costumes with which the streets abounded. Chi-chester, true to its ancient Roman origin, is still a camp. We had passed the barracks of the regiment now quartered here, the night before. There were brilliant dashes of color abroad this morning, — brave scarlets, and jaunty red caps, the latter tilted at the most extraordinary angle compatible with adhesiveness, worn by dashing young braves, who walked with the step of young giants off on a stroll.

The direct relation between a military button and the corresponding activity of a woman’s vanity lias never yet been satisfactorily explained. But we all know that the appearance of a single military coat has been known to change the millinery of an entire town from a condition of stagnation to one of frenzied animation.

Besides the red coats and the pretty fresh faces, the streets were filled with numbers of traps and carriages, many of them, from the plethoric baskets strapped at the back, evidently having been driven in from the surrounding country. Gentlemen from box-seats were giving orders to fruiterers. Stout ladies were handed down from drags by their foot-men, with an air of serious concern, to the level of the shop windows. One charmingly pretty girl rode up with her groom to a book-shop near us, and dis-mounted. She stood for a brief moment, holding lier habit over her arm, as she looked in at the window over the titles of some new books. Her sweet, fine profile, her straight, firm figure, with its air of breeding and refinement, made a charming picture in the midst of the old street and among the motley crowd of passers-by.

Altogether, we repeated to each other, Chichester is a charming little town ; if this is to be taken as a typical English provincial town, the spectacle of its stirring life makes the secret of England’s greatness the more understandable. Even these remote little English towns and cities, it appears, are,, centres of life and movement. Throughout the whole extent of this wonderful island there is the flow of quick arterial blood ; its very extremities are replete with nervous life. There are no stagnant places, no paralyzed members, in its compact little frame. London is not the only head or the sole heart of this admirably organized kingdom. The pulse and throb of active life thrills to its remotest finger-tips.

From the picturesque point of view, the beauty of Chichester appeared to have been focussed in the buildings about us. The town wore a sufficiently venerable appearance to be in keeping with the gray and mossy fronts of the cathedral, the campanile, and the Cross. The houses were for the most part uninteresting. Commerce is as brutal as war, and defaces as wantonly as the latter destroys ; and Chichester was, and is, distinctively commercial. It has been for many generations the great wool-fair of the kingdom.

From the historical standpoint Chichester may be said to have had a career replete with vicissitudes. For so small a city it has amassed a good deal of historical experience. Its origin is, of course, Saxon. No English city which respects itself but points with pride to its heathen ancestry, when its barbarous ancestors fiercely worshipped Thor and Odin. Chichester was Roman before it was Saxon, being one of the chief Roman settlements, known as Regnum. All these south-ern cities were for the most part Norman camps. They were on the high-road to the sea, and were the natural halting-places of the enemy or of the brave defenders of the soil. There is a temple just out of the city, at Goodwood, erected by the Duke of Richmond, containing a slab which brings Roman paganism wonderfully near. It bears the inscription : ” The college or company of artificers, and they who preside over the sacred rites or hold office by the authority of King Cogidubnus, the legatee of Tiberius Claudius Augustus, in Britain, dedicated this temple to Neptune and Minerva, for the welfare of the Imperial Family ; Pudens, the son of Pudentinus, giving the ground.” Minerva and Neptune next gave way to Thor and Odin ; for gods succeeded one another, as dynasties did, on these ancient battle-grounds. The shrine was erected by the victorious, that they might have a deity to pray to after they had done with the killing. If all the warriors turned worshippers, the temples about Chichester must always have been full ; for those old warriors had an appetite for blood which makes a modern soldier seem a very feeble production.

When Aelle and his son Cissa took Regnum from the Roman Britons, they ” slew all that dwelt therein, nor was there thenceforth one Brit left,” says the old chronicler. When there were no others left to kill, they slew themselves. After a long period of famine, the hungry Saxons, linking themselves in companies of forties and fifties, sought to put an end to their sufferings by throwing themselves into the sea. What a spectacle must that wild horde of undisciplined passions have been, dancing their fearful dance to the sea! Even in suicide it appears they chose to march bravely, in battalions, to this voluntary death. They knew not how to endure, but they still preserved their instinct of bravery. Christianity came at last to teach this brute force its own strength.

Hence the cathedral. The battle-axe was laid aside for the chisel. It is impossible, I think, to compute the tremendous influence which the building of these great cathedrals must have exercised on the mediaeval character. Much stress has been laid on the enlarging and civilizing uses of the Crusades. The Crusades unquestionably made experienced travellers of the mediaeval ascetics; but a cathedral was a finer experience than a crusade. It developed the humanities. It kept men at home, and taught them the sweet uses of sympathy, of interest in a common object, and brought near to them the experiences of self-sacrifice. It developed the yearning faculties, the longing for the exercise of taste and skill, into trained talents which could he consecrated to the highest achievement.

What a stirring fire of enthusiasm, for instance, kindled the builders of the great Chartres Cathedral ! Powerful men, proud of their riches and accustomed to a delicate and luxurious life, harnessed themselves to the shafts of carts to convey stones, lime, wood, and every necessary material for the construction of the sacred edifice. ” Sometimes a thousand persons, men and women, are harnessed to the same cart, so heavy is the load ; nevertheless such a profound silence reigns, that not the least whisper is heard. When they stop on the road, they speak only of their sins, which they confess with tears and prayers. Then the priests make them promise to stifle all hatred and forgive all debts. Should any one be found who is so hardened as to be unwilling to forgive his enemies and refuse to submit to the pious exhortations, he is at once unharnessed from the cart, and driven out of the holy band.” This is quoted from an extremely interesting history of Notre Dame de Chartres, written by Abbé Bulteau.

No record brings to us any such account of the pious banding together of English nobles and peasants for the dual purpose of purging their souls by penance and hastening the completion of their grand cathedral. The Englishman’s enthusiasm is colder, even when under the influence of the deepest emotion. His piety is never a sensational debauch ; he is under no such dramatic necessity for the display of his sensibilities as animates the excitable Gaul, to whom the experience of emotion is misery unless it can be enacted before an audience, however small. And thus, I fancy, the patience and self-denial and the hard-won triumphs over rebellious spirits and haughty souls lie buried in the silence of the sculptured stones, whose enduring beauty is the nobler record.

As an eloquent instance of perseverance, Chichester Cathedral may be said to be unequalled. Its existence is proof of the indomitable energy of man in restoring what the elements destroy. Heaven itself appeared to be in league with the force of the winds and the fury of the flames. What fire did not consume, the winds wrecked. When the battalions of the skies had ceased their pillaging, the soldiers of the Commonwealth took possession with their swords. But in spite of revolutions, of wind-storms and the scorching breath of fire, the beautiful cathedral, with its lovely spire, wore a wonderfully complete and serene front as we walked towards it on that bright summer morning. It is set in the midst of its close, a little apart from the main thorough-fare. A guerdon of trees separates the brisk step of the passer-by from the silent footsteps, forever stilled, which lie beneath the old gravestones. Once within the iron gates, one feels the influence of that peculiar hush which the nearness of God’s temple always brings.

Who has not felt this peace and quiet in the air as he has stepped aside from the bustle of the busy world into the still, calm burial-ground surrounding some old church ? It is only a distance of a few yards, and yet how remote the world seems, after a few moments alone there! One may be neither Christian nor believer, neither communicant nor worshipper ; and yet such is the deep tranquillity of the place, such the sweet and restful peace beneath those cool aisles of the over-shadowing trees, that unconsciously the heart be-comes stilled, the soul is eased of its burden, and life, for a brief moment’s space at least, is lived softly, peacefully, lovingly. A blessing seems to be abroad in the air, and to have alighted for a second’s space in our bosoms.

This feeling is intensified in English church-yards. A beautiful fashion of appropriating a large space of green is one of the peculiar charms of English cathedral buildings. The velvety lawn and the grove of trees are an essential part of the English builder’s plan, in the arrangement of his architectural effects. The cathedral is thus pre-served against accidental surroundings. It is set apart, away from the disturbing influences of incongruous buildings. Unlike the great continental cathedrals, an English cathedral is neither hidden among the slums of an old market-place nor barbarously exposed to the inclemencies of the weather on a barren hill-top. Sheltered amid its well-wooded paths, the entire mass of the beautiful structure rises unencumbered and unobstructed.

Apart from the admirable advantages gained by such a wise combination of the beauties of nature and of art, there is an added charm, — the cathedral appears to have an ideal poetic isolation, the effect of its separateness as a temple being thus the more fully emphasized.

It would have been impossible, for instance, for just the effect which the exterior of this cathedral produced on us, as we approached it, to have been wrought by any continental cathedral. The deep shade of the trees, the thick sweet grass, the quiet pathways, and the shadows resting on the grave-stones were the prelude to the deeper sensations the interior of the church itself was to awaken. We were keyed into an emotional feeling before we entered the temple. It is scarcely a matter of wonderment that men in the worst times of Anne and the Georges, when the most exquisite Gothic carvings and altar-pieces were destroyed, should have spared the grass and the trees. An Englishman is a nature-lover even when he turns iconoclast.

Entering the low portal, we discovered with delight that we had the interior of the church to ourselves. Not even the flutter of a verger’s gown was to be discerned. We could sit down unmolested on the little rush-bottomed chairs, and enjoy the beauty about us without feeling that our sensations were to be summoned up to order.

Our first impression was one of bewilderment. The interior of Chichester appeared to be three or four churches made one ; not because of its size, but because of its extraordinary architectural variety of design. Imagine a Norman nave, so massive that it appears to grow out of the earth, with square-capped columns and round arches rearing their sturdy strength up into the roof beyond, tier on tier. This massive nave is flanked on either side by two slender, graceful Gothic aisles, as light and delicate in their lines as the branches of so many young trees. As if this, as an architectural shock, were not sufficient to have satisfied builders in pursuit of novelties, a walk toward the south transept and the Lady Chapel introduced us to the fantastic elaborations and rich traceries of the fourteenth-century workers. Beyond, out among the trees and grass of the cloisters, the upright perpendicular lines of the still later Gothic showed that in this most curious and interesting little cathedral one could trace the growth and flowering of the English taste in architecture during those five hundred years when the preeminent qualities of its excellence and beauty made England take its place among the two or three great and original masters in the art. In no other English cathedral, perhaps, can the transition in styles be so distinctly traced. Chichester, considered from this point of view, may be said to be a mosaic of English experiments in cathedral building.

The result as a whole is more interesting than beautiful. The absence of a distinct unity of plan or design makes one tremendously conscious of the effort there has been in it all. The Norman bishops planned one thing, which the Early English and later Perpendicular architects did their best either to obliterate or to destroy. But strength is more persistent than grace ; and so all through the charming geometric lace-work the rugged massive ribs and round-arched vertebrae of the Norman structure protrude their giant strength.

A certain coldness and want of color, and also a sense of the loss of that contrast that comes with prismatic light, made these effects and this architectural diversity even more conspicuous. The whole interior was as gray as a convent. There was none of that beautiful, mysterious cloistral twilight which pervades the atmosphere in continental cathedrals,— an atmosphere that makes their dim aisles as shadowy as if enveloped in some delicately tinted fog. Here the pale sunlight brought the colorless pallor of this interior into almost cruel relief. The absence of glass would account for something of this defect, there being only a few modern stained-glass windows in the entire edifice. But even where deep shadows were made by some architectural feature, the contrast they brought to the whole was sombre. In the Norman triforium the shadows were black ; it was the blackness of the dungeon rather than the rich depth of blended shade.

We did not escape the verger, after all. He discovered us just in time to prevent our making the complete tour of the cathedral. We had not seen the tombs, of course, having neglected them for the above less important features. But the little verger was a man of determination. He had had to deal with indifferent and rebellious tourists before. He soon brought us round to the correct sepulchral attitude ; not a mortuary urn was allowed to pass unnoticed. He presented us first to the bishops, as they lay in state, with mitre and crozier and archiepiscopal hat. Each had his history, of which only the commendable features had evidently been confided to the verger. One must go to Froude’s profane pages for the scandals which made the lives of some of these blameless gentlemen such a curious mixture of piety and immorality. Their frailties live on in history ; their virtues appear to have been infolded within their august robes of state. The recumbent figures of the knights in full armor were more to our taste ; there is some-thing honest in men who go to heaven armed capa-pie, as if they meant to fight for their rights even at Saint Peter’s gate. By the side of one of these warriors, apparelled in the stiff narrow gowns of the fourteenth century, lay the effigy of his lady. The knight had taken off his glove, and held in his own the slim tapering fingers of his calm-browed spouse. The couple are Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, and his Countess. The former was beheaded by reason of too great fidelity to the Duke of Gloucester, in King Richard’s reign. King Richard was not a man to be stopped by too nice a feeling if he had a purpose to accomplish. After the Earl’s interment, “it having been bruited around for a miracle that his head had grown to his body again,” that thorough-going monarch ordered the tomb opened. Little wonder that the poor gentleman wanted the cold comfort of holding his wife’s hand down through the ages, after such a double indignity !

Our verger was filled with grief over the fact of the loss of the fine old brasswork,—the crosses and the shields inserted into the stone slabs. They had all been stolen or destroyed by the soldiers of the Commonwealth. The pillaging and desecration in this little cathedral were riotous during the Revolution. Sir William Waller’s troops ” ran up and down with their swords, defacing the monuments of the dead, and hacking the seats and the stalls.” These Puritan warriors must have been connoisseurs as well as iconoclasts. They knew just what to smash and to steal. They stripped the cathedral as bare as only an educated eye could have directed.

” Yes, ma’am, they smashed all the old glass, and they stole all our brasses. The jewels in the sculptures, did you notice, ma’am, they was stole, I fancy,” was our guide’s mournfully resentful summary of those old days of pious pillaging. He could not have been more indignantly melancholy had he held his office during the Puritan raid. “The sculpture to which he referred was some most interesting old Norman work, of which we were to see more at Salisbury. The stolen jewels, which formed the eye-sockets in the faces of the rude figures, had left holes that looked like deep wounds. This early Norman sculpture is strangely like early Assyrian and Indian work. All archaic work has a more or less close resemblance ; for it corresponds to the primitive art impulse, to the period of the beginning of a nation’s art. The verger, we noticed, drew his finger over the stiff draperies lovingly, as if he wished to smooth out some of their rigidity. It was when the sad-faced little man, however, came to the recital of the falling of the spire, that he touched the apogee of his dramatic capabilities. He drew us into the choir, above which soars the present lovely and modern spire. He assured us that long before any one else had suspected the old spire of weakness he knew that it was doomed.

” Why, ma’am, the fissures was in the walls as big as crevices. The sides ‘ere of this ‘ere arch was as wrinkled as an old shoe. Hit was n’t any use patchin’ of such walls as that. No spire was goin’ to set firm on them rickety legs. All the workmen in the country could n’t make an old man stand straight; and that was what these walls was, hold men that ‘ad got tired. They could n’t ‘old themselves hup, much less a big tall spire. Well, the cathedral was full of workmen who done their best. They was a-workin’ and a-workin’ they done their best, I will say, and. when the storm came, they was like giants, — they never gave hup night nor day. Hit was an April storm, and every time the wind ‘owled every man in Chichester trembled. There was n’t a closed hi in Chichester that night. Why ! every one on us, men and boys, ‘ad grown hup under that hold spire. We loved hit as we did our own. But it ‘ad to go. When mornin’ broke, the storm was a tempest.

We could almost ‘ear the great spire a-rockin’ in the wind. And then it fell. We was all hout in the streets, bareheaded, when hit caved. Hit fell, sur, just like hit was a telescope, a-falling into hitself. Hit did n’t do no harm to nobody nor nothin’ but just hitself. Hit was just God’s mercy that watched over hit, and when hit was gone a prayer was on hevery lip, and a tear in hevery hi ; and, sur, oh, sur, but was n’t the dust awful ? It was weeks and weeks before we was clean and to rights.” And the little man began furtively to dust a near choir-stall, as if the memory of that time had brought up the old habit.

The cathedral guide-books tell the story of this famous falling in of the old spire in 1861 with more elaborateness of detail, but the old verger’s account we found quite as accurate and far more picturesque. After the debris had been cleared away, designs for the rebuilding based on the old models were immediately begun. The result is the present beautiful structure. Many authorities prefer it to its famous Salisbury rival ; and indeed, in its aerial lightness and grace and its perfection of proportion, it would be difficult to conceive a spire more pleasing. It possesses that genuine soaring quality without which a spire always seems to miss its intended effect. It is little won-der that the inhabitants of Chichester loved their spire ; for Chichester, a flat city in a flat country, would be as unnoticed as featureless plainness ever is. This lovely arrow shot into the sky makes the city as conspicuous as some old veteran who, ere he launches his weapon, takes a fine and noble attitude.