THERE is a peculiar charm, in an unknown country, in watching the daily miracle of day giving way to night. Twilight invests all landscape with a fresh meaning. English landscape particularly gains by the transformation of this hour of mysterious charm. Details are lost in the twilight blur ; they are merged or obliterated by the long finger of the deepening shadows ; outlines etch their indistinctness against the sky, and the landscape can be but dimly divined through the dense masses of shade.
It was through the rich gloom of such an hour that as we skirted the crown of a steep hill we looked down upon an outstretch of country, not yet so lost in the dusk of the night that we could not distinguish the arrowy flight into the sky of the great Salisbury cathedral spire. Only the noble outline of the encompassing hills, the foliage massed in the valleys, through which the light of the scattered villages glittered like tangled fireflies, and that upshooting tapering spire, could be seen in the thick richness of the coming night.
Our road into Salisbury led us from the brighter light on the hill into the darkness of the valley. The villages were in shadow. Even the lights were out in the little cottages and taverns. Not a tapster seemed astir. The hush of an early Sabbath sleep appeared to pervade each one of the hamlets we passed.
Salisbury, we found, was by no means such a rustic as her country neighbors. On entering its thickly built streets the lights were ablaze on the street corners. The taverns, apparently, were still doing a lively business. There were any number of friendly vagrants, with no other ostensible occupation, an hour before midnight, than to continue the day’s work of diligently keeping their hands in their pockets, readily willing to show us our way to the ” White Hart ” inn. A formidably realistic figure of that anomalous member of the animal kingdom, surmounting a portico which projected over the sidewalk, proved that our idle guides had dealt fairly with us.
We were received with that air of unmoved calm and that appearance of impassive interest characteristic of good English inn-manners. Our coming at nearly midnight from nowhere in particular, with a horse that gave every evidence of having found the way long, ourselves and luggage covered with dust, proving the length of our journey no fable, appeared to arouse no more concern or curiosity than if we had come at midday by train.
” Do you really suppose it is genuine, this indifference, or is it put on ? ” I queried of Boston, when the last dusty bag had been deposited in the pleas-ant lamp-lit sitting-room.
” My dear, human nature is n’t as varied as it might be; it has a way of repeating its types. I presume curiosity in Salisbury is as lively and active a faculty as curiosity in a New England town ; only, in England it has learned the good manners of repressing itself.”
” There’s something deeper in it than that, I think ; it ‘s the reticence which rank imposes upon its inferiors. Fancy a peasant asking a lord where he has come from, and imagine a Yankee refraining because of any such reason. But here’s supper, and it looks as good as their manners are perfect.”
To the respectful attention of the waiter who served us, was added, we discovered, another quality of excellence. It was that of thoughtful considerateness. The discretion of the man’s silence was suddenly broken by what appeared to be a spontaneous impulse. He was on the point of withdrawing with the tray, at the end of our repast, when he stopped a moment at the door, turned towards me with a little bow, and said,
” I hope, ma’am, as ye won’t be troubled by the noise in the mornin’, ma’am, after your long drive, ma’am.”
Before we could ask a question he was gone.
” What does that mean ? ” exclaimed Boston.
” It means that something is going to happen, a procession, or a country-meeting, or it may be the advent of Royalty. But whatever it is I shall take the precaution to get my forty winks immediately.”
It was well that I did ; for before dawn the ” noise ” had begun. Our first impression on awaking was that a menagerie and a circus in combination had been let loose.
” The yearly tiger has broken out of his cage,” I said conjecturally to Boston, as I went towards the window.
Light hoofs were striking the pavement, and the tread of heavy-booted men and boys. But as I opened the shutters, there came other sounds, the pitiful bleating of lambs, the neighing of horses, and the lowing of cattle ; so the circus theory had to be abandoned.
Looking forth into the faint bluish gray of early dawn, I saw that the street, as far as the eye could penetrate its length either way, was filled with great droves of sheep and cattle.
Teamsters were driving huge wagons and carts, the latter filled with calves and kids. There were groups of horses tethered to one another, led by farmers’ boys riding one of the leaders bare-back. Many of the horses were tricked out with ribbons and straw trimmings in their manes and tails. The teamsters also wore a festival appearance, with gay little knots of colored ribbons fastened to their coats and large hats. The noise and the tumult were indescribable ; there was the barking of the shepherd dogs as they plunged madly after stray sheep, the yelling of the teamsters to one another, the shouting of the boys as their horses reared or struggled, and, piercing through the din like some flageolet note of pain, was the pathetic bleating of the sheep and the groaning of the calves. Naturally, with such a chorus of sounds in the air, sleep was out of the question. Shortly before six we rang for breakfast. In just fifteen minutes it appeared, borne by our waiter of the night before. His unexampled promptness he at once proceeded to explain, deeming, doubtless, that a haste so contrary to the provincial habit rendered some form of apology necessary.
“I knowed you couldn’t sleep, sir, what with the noise and the uproar, an’ so I got your breakfast ready in case it was ordered, sir.”
” What is it ? what is all this noise about ?” “It ‘s the sheep-fair, sir, the sheep, horse, and cattle fair, as takes place once a year.”
“Is it held here in town?”
” About a mile out, sir, down in the meadows. But the city’s full,full of the gentry and the farmers come in to buy. We’ve been up nearly all night a-waitin’ on ‘em, sir. You ought to see it, sir, begging your pardon ; it’s a grand sight.”
” See it ? I wonder what he takes us for ? ” said Boston, with more emphasis than elegance as the waiter closed the door behind him. ” Not go to a sheep-fair in England when it’s at your very door ? As well go to Rome and not see the Pope, should he pass beneath your window ! ”
” I suppose, then, we ‘ll postpone the cathedral.”
” The cathedral, my dear, having been here some five hundred years, will presumably be in town at least till tomorrow.”
” We can’t drive Ballad out ; he ‘s too tired.”
” We don’t want him. It would be better to go as the rest do, as those people are going now in those queer-looking traps; don’t you think so?”
We were looking out of the window again. The droves of cattle had given place to multitudes of people, to farmers, country-looking gentlemen, young and old, to tradesmen and their wives, a motley anxious crowd, standing about on street-corners waiting for seats in some one of the numerous passing vehicles. But not a seat wag to be had, apparently. Every species of cart, wagon, trap, and vehicle which the surrounding country contained had been put into requisition. Drivers plied their whips, speeding along in clouds of dust to the fair, returning for fresh passengers ; yet the crowds never seemed to thin.
It was nearly midday before we ourselves were in possession of a broken-down phaeton and jaded horse, whose owner, at a preposterous price, consented to our occupying the vehicle, without the addition of the dozen or more fellow-passengers usually crowded into it.
The mile, what with its dust and thronged thoroughfares, and the curious mixture of the human and animal species, we found just a mile too long ; but the first glimpse of the fair grounds made these discomforts more than endurable.
In a wide stretch of rich meadow-land, with fringes of trees and bits of wood for an enceinte, with gently sloping hills towards the west, where the flags and the bunting would show well against the sky, lay the fair grounds. The scene, as we entered, was brilliant with life and movement. The wicker pens were packed with noble-looking sheep and rams, crowded together so closely that their backs looked like an unbroken sheep-rug. Under the trees, and in the open, were grouped the horses and cattle. Some jockeys, in brilliant tweed vests, and farmers’ boys were riding stallions and half-broken colts, while the mares and still younger colts were tethered to the tree-trunks, contentedly nibbling the short grass, as if a change of masters were among the things to be accepted with philosophy in a life of vicissitudes.
The ceaselessly moving throngs of people filled the alleys between the sheep-pens, crowded about the auctioneers’ stands, and packed the narrow strip allowed to spectators about the horse enclosures. The crowd had the instability of a mercurial stream ; now conjoining into groups to halloo and hurrah over some feet of horsemanship ; or dissolving like quicksilver, only to meet again at the improvised booths and alfresco restaurants which countrywomen and gypsies had erected under the belt of the more distant trees. The scene, teaming with life and replete in contrasts, was set, like a picture in its frame, in the emerald meadows and the tender foliage ; all the outlines were softened and harmonized by the rich verdure. It was a Teniers framed in velvet.
The dominant note in the scene was its dead earnestness. This was no make-believe fair, a Frenchman’s gala-outing or a Spaniard’s fête, where barter and trade were only to serve as the mask of revelry. This was a camp of traders bent on business. There appeared to be little or no loitering under the great trees, among the buyers, in wait for any chance pleasure or gayety to which the occasion might give rise. In trade an English-man is as serious as he is when at his prayers. He would as soon think of play as an accompaniment to the one as to the other.
The absence, presumably, of any coarse gayeties accounted for the presence of so many sons of the Church. They were quite as safe here from the profane vulgarities of the world as in their pulpits. The curate’s innocent round-eyed face, the rector’s more worldly figure, immaculate in linen, with severely cut garments, were in amusing contrast to the knowingly tipped nose of the pervasive jockey, who cracked his ‘short whip and uttered a joke in the very teeth of these gentlemen. Among the crowd sauntered swells in perfection of riding -gear. Stolid-looking country squires and every variety of farmer were inextricably mixed in the mass of the moving, jostling multitude. Here and there a swarthy-skinned gypsy-girl, with gleaming teeth and glossy hair, shot through the crowd like a darting bit of flame, focussing all eyes upon her as she smiled boldly back. At the outskirts of the grounds some noisy flirtations were in full swing between some of these gay-kerchiefed gypsies and the plough-boys and farmers’ lads who had been left to guard the wagons and teams. The sound of their broad coarse laughter was like the introduction of an opera-bouffe aria into the midst of a grave cantata.
Such pleasures as the fair offered were concentrated about the eating-booths. It was rather a solemn company of feasters, that we passed, crowding about the little tables. The English farmer has never learned the art of seasoning his food with laughter. The cattle feeding out yonder, and these silent farmers who gave out a monosyllable or two between the beer-draining, both brought to their meal the same Egyptian gravity and dignity. One admirable little rustic scene greeted our eyes on our way out. It was an old barn filled with long narrow tables on which was placed a profusion of coarse homely fare. Farmers and teamsters crowded the barrels, casks, and broken stools, the only available seats. Their strong sunburnt faces loomed out of the dark. The steaming food, the coarse textures of the farmers’ coats and capes, and the serving-women, who now raised a beer-jug, now planted their arms akimbo on their wide hips, throwing back their full strong throats, as they joined in the occasional short laughter that went round with the beer, made a very complete picture of rustic life and manners.
Just outside the barn a trade was being struck. The buyers were two gentlemen, one of whom had taken off his riding-glove and had thrust his richly jewelled hand deep into the nearest sheep’s thick coat. The sellers were two farmers. The elder was a noble-looking old man, of the last-century type, whose frugal savings had written their obvious balm of peace and content on his rugged unworried face. Next him stood a thin nervous younger farmer, whose premature lines of care were tell-tale proofs that American beef and American wheat were harder competitors to fight than his Georgian grandfather had found the American Rebels.
There were but few words interchanged, but the gentlemen handled the sheep with the air of connoisseurs. Finally the elder gentleman turned to the younger farmer, and said,
” We’ll take them. Have them driven over directly, will you ? ”
The farmer nodded and whistled ; a lad appeared in response ; the sheep were driven out of their pens, and all started forward.
“Is it a long bit ?” the lad asked of the gentle-men as they mounted their horses at the gate.
” Not so very, about eight miles or so.”
The boy grasped his stick more firmly, turned, made a half-moon of one hand against the side of his mouth, and shouted down into the hollow,
“Father, don’t ee wait dinner ; it’s a long bit, eight mile or more. Don’t ee wait.” He then resumed the guardianship of his sheep.
” It’s a primitive way of doing one’s slopping, but it has the advantage of appearing to insure speed and an honest delivery of the goods,” said Boston, as we proceeded leisurely to follow the sheep and the two men, but at a distance, because of the dust raised by the sheep in the open roadway.
A short drive soon took us into the heart of the city. The streets, as we drove back, seemed strangely still and deserted. All the stir of life had evidently localized itself in the fair grounds.
The character of the streets, we noticed, appeared to be a curious mixture of the old and the modern. Salisbury, having been built so recently as 1220, failing to be as old as possible, was probably bent on being as modern as is compatible with the national conservatism. In proof of this latter ambition there were so many structures, brave in fresh paint and in modern complexity of design, as to make the still remaining, older houses appear out of place.
Perhaps it was the intrusion of these modern buildings that made us suddenly dismiss our lumbering vehicle, and decide to walk into the darkness of one of the older narrower side-streets. A really experienced traveller never looks for the picturesque on the main thoroughfares. The true antique spirit of the past is usually to be found lurking among the less pretentious streets ; for the antique spirit, like all other decent ghosts, prefers darkness and secrecy to the glare of day-light, knowing full well the advantages to be gained by the jugglery of mysteriousness. Thus the true beauty of old towns is to be looked for among the sunken narrow sidewalks, among the rickety houses and the little weedy gardens, parks and terraces once, perhaps, but which the poor of the town have no time now to plant or to weed. All this we found as true of Salisbury as we had of many another city, whose fresh modern main streets had sent us home with a chill of disappointment.
The narrower, the meaner, the poorer the streets, we found as we walked along, the prettier the town grew. No one had found it worth his while to pull down these half-decayed old houses, or even to repaint them ; so the tiny casemented windows, the carved Tudor pilasters, and the rare old doors and entrances had remained unspoiled. In color two or three of these streets were lovely in their dulled prismatic hues. The crumbling façades had the softness and mellowness of old ivory. Their faint yellows and pale grays made some of the carvings look like bits of tattered rich old lace. The only conspicuously modern element was the filth ; but as dirt seems everywhere the true and necessary concomitant of color of the best sort, we were disposed to regard the sloppy sidewalks and the reeking alley-ways with a lenient eye.
A girl with a red kerchief pinned across her bosom, and a pitcher in one hand, suddenly appeared from beneath one of the arched doorways. Instead of proceeding down the street, she turned at one of the corners of an alley-way, and went towards a path that led into the open meadows ; for the out-lying fields straggled with comfortable assurance close along the edges of the streets.
” She is going for water, and probably to the river ; I mean to follow her ! ” I exclaimed.
“How absurd ! We shall only lose our way ! ” protested Boston, who, after the fixed habit of men, always made a point of distrusting an impulse.
“Nonsense! we haven’t any way ; besides, we have discovered before now, that the true method of finding it is to lose it. Come ! ”
I started down the alley-way in pursuit of the red kerchief. Boston followed, but at a distance; for a man at all times has a certain respect for the varnish of his boots, a respect which is apt to be accentuated when he is following his wife into paths not of his choosing, and which in this case, at least, were uncommonly slippery.
The reeking alley-way soon became a path along the river-bank. It had turned at a sharp angle, and lo ! almost at our feet stretched the low, sweet, straggling river. I was right. The girl, our guide, had come for water. She stooped over the bank, filled her ewer, and then rose slowly, its weight bending her over as she walked back along the path. Her red kerchief and her frowsy reddish hair made the scene seem less brilliant when she had disappeared behind the corner of the first house.
We continued our walk along the river-bank. Each step brought a fresh revelation of beauty. First of all, there was the charm, which every one knows who has tried it, of following an unfamiliar river: One never knows just where an unknown river may lead. As a guide, a stream or a little river is far more interesting than the most entertaining of streets. It is more talkative, for one thing. Its babble and its ripple, as it flows gently over the sedgy grasses, is at once new and familiar. It is like the tones of some old friend’s voice sounding in our ears, rendered strange only because he is clothed in unfamiliar garments. So this low-toned Avon sounded delightfully friendly, as it chatted to the weeds and the tall grasses growing along its straggling banks. It led us almost unconsciously along, as we travelled in the company of a number of wonderful old houses, whose decrepit appearance told us how long they had been standing here, watching the river flow on. Here, at last, was the ideal Salisbury. This maze of soft foliage, these odorous river-banks, these rows of tottering buildings, long since fallen out of the perpendicular, made a rich harmony of architectural adjuncts to the natural rural note of the meadows and the waving tree-tops.
There was a bridge, I remember, which we crossed, and on which we stood for several moments, watching the picture as it focussed into new outlines. Suddenly we lifted our eyes ; and there upward soared the giant spire of the cathedral. It shot its tapering spiral into the dizzy ether like a thing of life.
There could have been no better point of view than this from which to gain one’s first glimpse of this great spire. Subsequent observations taken from the cathedral close diminished very sensibly the effect of its incomparable grace and its majestic symmetry. A spire, more than any other architectural feature perhaps, demands a certain distance and the advantages of perspective. Seen at near range, neither its true height nor its just proportions can be properly measured. Here, in the midst of this rustic setting, with only the trees for rivals and to serve as aids for measurement, the noble spire rose toward heaven in all the fulness of its perfection. At first its true height is scarcely appreciable, so symmetrically proportioned are its four hundred and four feet. After repeated and careful examination, the wonder still remains that this tapering angle, lanced into the sky to such a daring altitude, can, at the last as at the first view, appeal to the eye rather because of its surpassing lightness and grace than merely as a triumph of height. This latter glory it leaves to its two rivals, to Strasburg and Amiens. It still remains unequalled in the higher beauties of true grace of proportion and in simplicity of design.
The note of contrast between such a noble architectural feature as this spire and this smiling pastoral setting was touched again with singular felicity, we found, in the first full view we had of the cathedral, set in the midst of its beautiful close.
In our subsequent walks about the little provincial streets of the city the presence of one of the greatest cathedrals in England would be scarcely suspected, so concealed is the magnificent structure behind its ramparts of walls and trees. Salisbury is, I believe, the only walled cathedral in England. In the reign of Edward III. a license was granted for an embattled wall to be built around the enclosure, which contains the cathedral itself, the Bishop’s Palace, the broad sweep of turf, and a number of smaller houses belonging to the cathedral. The walls are pierced by four gateways. The cathedral enclosure is in reality a city within a city. Once past the formidable-looking St. Anne’s gateway with its quaintly ancient chapel overhead, one has the sense of treading consecrated ground.
The cathedral rests its grand base on a clear, wide sweep of turf. The velvet of the lawn runs close to the roughened edges of the foundation stones. The trees are removed at wide distances, and form no part of the immediate surroundings ; so that the wonderful structure stands clear and free. From its base to the diminutive apex of its spire there is nothing to break the fulness and grandeur of the effect of the structure as a whole.
Next to the completeness of the genius which could conceive and erect such a building, is the talent which knew just how best to place it. Salisbury is as perfectly placed as if Phidias had had a hand in it. There is much, indeed, in this cathedral to remind one of Greek workmanship. Its supreme air of high finish, the’ perfection of its proportion, its aerial grace, and its ideal symmetry all recall the greater works of those masters whose creations must forever remain the models of the world. One is under the same stress of necessity to view this cathedral from all sides and from every point of view as seizes upon one in gazing at the great statues of antiquity. The cathedral may be said to be as complete as the most perfect Greek statue. Much of the same airy grace, the lightness, and, more than all, that bloom which the best Greek work irradiates, belongs also to this cathedral ; the bloom that is only to be found at the most perfect moment of the growth and virility of an art. Salisbury was built at the most fruitful period of England’s building era. Its inspiration came when architecture had attained the meridian of its technical skill, and when the art had been domiciled long enough to be capable of producing a truly national and original creation. Salisbury is as representative, as typical, and as national as the Parthenon. It is supremely English. It is so preeminently English, indeed, that it can still stand as the embodiment of its religion, of that form which alone is suited to the English religious taste and to its spiritual temper,the form of the Established Church, a religion governed by law, administered by ceremonial, yet freed from despot-ism and therefore typically English. Salisbury is the ideal cathedral of such a religion. It was made for beautiful ceremonials which yet should have a congregational form, for ceremonials which would have no need of the mysteries of Catholic symbolism. Its builders, though Catholics and Catholics of the thirteenth-century blindly-believing order, were nevertheless Englishmen before they were Catholics. In those soaring lines, in that vast yet orderly-disposed mass, in the rich yet serious .tracery, and in the grandeur of the harmonious outlines, the English talent for moderation, its genius for order, its love and delight in wise reticence, and its insistent demands for unity and proportion are revealed and embodied. If England were now capable of producing so complete an architectural work, her genius would again run into this early Gothic mould, into this precise mould which she made her own, into the Early English, of which Salisbury remains as the most perfect example.
Another of the causes which combined to complete the perfection of this cathedral was the fact of its having been built within the short period of thirty-eight years. The plan of the original de-signers was thus scrupulously adhered to, not altered and changed and then the structure itself finally torn down to suit still later innovators, as has been the fate of almost every other cathedral in England. This admirable celerity of execution proves the freedom and the skill attained by its builders. It again reminds us of the Greek workmen who could design and complete the buildings on the Acropolis in thirty or more short years.
The history of the building of the cathedral comes down to us begirt with the usual decorative embellishments of legend and superstitious romance. That the old Sarum Cathedral, which had crowned the old hill fortification, being successively Brito-Roman, Saxon, and Norman, had for centuries exercised its jurisdiction over half the southern diocese of England, history affirms. Also that in the time of Bishop le Poer, this ancient church was found suffering from a number of inconveniences, such as scarcity of water, exposure, and the insults of the soldiery quartered in the castle hard by, is likewise no fable. But the modern imagination finds itself lacking in flexibility when asked to believe that the site of the new cathedral, in the smiling fertile valleys of the plain, was determined by an arrow shot from the ramparts of old Sarum ; and one’s credulity rebels at an acceptance of the other alternative offered, that of believing that the site was revealed to the bishop in a dream by the Blessed Lady in person. The subsequent building of the church was carried along under the impetus of a religious fervor in keeping with this latter statement. A great body of the nobles, returning with the king from Wales during the laying of the foundations, went to Salisbury, ” and each laid his stone, binding himself to some special contribution for a period of seven years.” Little wonder that the cathedral grew apace. It grew so fast that, begun in 1217, it was completed in 1258, the cloisters and chapter-house being added in the latter part of the same century. The history of the spire is less assured. It seems a question whether or not it formed a part of the original plan ; but, erected in 1330-1375, it now stands as the fitting completion to crown the noble structure. Two supremely interesting features in the external design are noticeable at a first glance, the boldness of breaking the general outline by two transepts instead of one, and the beauty and simplicity of the apsidal portion. The western front, compared with these two strikingly original features, loses in impressiveness, although in de-sign it possesses a unity in composition rarely seen in English fronts. The perfection of finish so noticeable in the exterior ,of Salisbury is due to the marvellous care taken to insure accuracy in the masonry. As soon as one part was finished, it was exactly copied in the next ; so that the completed whole presents an exactness and precision hardly paralleled, perhaps, in any other great building. This high degree of finish is in some measure accountable for the fault of severity in outline and the lack of shadow so often commented upon in this cathedral ; but the supreme elegance and the rare unity attained more than outweigh such defects.
The same perfection of finish ,that characterizes the exterior is found in the interior. The halls of a palace could not be more consummately radiant in their perfection. The eye wanders in dazed delight over the glistening floor, over the glittering marbles, and the polished Purbeck shafts. The green of the latter material is only appreciable when polished ; so that although the ten great bays with their clustered columns are all of Purbeck, only the shafts gleam with color. The eye sweeps in un-encumbered freedom from length to length of the gloriously vaulted nave. The finely wrought embroidery of the brass choir-screen separates the apsidal portion of the cathedral from the nave ; thus the cinque-cento glass in the Lady Chapel is clearly visible from the extreme western end.
At the Reformation, although Salisbury was spared the usual barbarities inflicted by the Commonwealth soldiery on the great cathedrals, it did not escape the fate of abandonment and desolation. Its true profanation was left for more experienced hands. In 1791 the architect Wyatt, with his original views as to how the eighteenth century could improve on the thirteenth, swept away screens, porches, chapels, tombs ; he ” flung stained-glass by cartloads into the open ditch ; destroyed ancient paintings, and levelled with the ground the campanile, which stood on the north side of the church,” all of which astonishing iconoclastic changes were deemed by the authorities of his time as ” tasteful, effective, and judicious.” Fortunately the unique and beautiful triforium, with its thickly clustered columns and its airy open arcade, as well as the splendor of the magnificent vaulting in the roof, escaped ; in the upper stories of the cathedral, at least, the original work of the builders remains unspoiled. Among other changes Wyatt ordained that the knights and warriors, the courtiers and their stiff-stomachered spouses, should be ranged in two long rows beneath the arches of the great aisles. It is a monstrous arrangement, and yet it produces a certain grandeur of effect. These mailed warriors, these courtiers in ruffles and lace, these Elizabethan-ruffed countesses, the former grasping their swords as if seeing in every gazer a Crusader’s enemy ; others, more at peace with the world and not quite so sure of heaven, lying with hands stiffened in supplication ; while the ladies, of course, are cast in the very image of piety, this goodly company looked not unlike some ghostly band, kept here to guard the sacred precincts. In the monuments every period of mortuary art is rep-resented, from the era of the rudest sculpture to the refined and all too elegant creations of Flax-man, ” another lost mind,” as Ruskin graphically describes this sculptor. There is the same massing of picturesque historic fates here as at Winchester; bishops and princes, courtiers and nobles, beauties and frail ones, having passed the dark portal, their effigies remain to commemorate their virtues and their deeds. Among the beauties lies the Countess of Pembroke,
” The glory of all verse,
Sidney’s sister, Pembroke’s mother,”
whose epitaph has been written in the ” Arcadia ” by a hand which will long outlast the limner or the engraver on more perishable marble or brass.
To be deeply stirred by these bygone histories, or even to vibrate to any very profound impression, when under the influences of the singularly cheerful atmosphere which pervades this cathedral, would be, I think, difficult. It may be owing to the particularly light and open character of the architectural effects, resulting from Wyatt’s changes, to the absence of deep shadow in the mouldings, to a certain sense of thinness and meagreness produced by the severity of the decorations, and also, perhaps, to the fact that there is almost no old stained-glass remaining to insure enriching, sobering tones ; but certain it is that Salisbury, in spite of its perfections, fails in impressiveness. It is not that the splendid edifice is lacking in grandeur or in dignity ; but the resplendent light which penetrates into every portion of the vast building, and the extraordinarily airy, soaring character of the architectural lines, impart to this cathedral an unwontedly joyous aspect, one as far removed as possible from solemnity.
Cathedrals have a very distinct and unique climate of their own. The atmosphere of Salisbury differs as widely from the dusky twilight which underhangs St. Peter’s vast dome as noonday differs from the hour of the setting sun.
The blithe and active verger, who had been busy locking companies of tourists into the choir and out of the cloisters since our arrival, seemed imbued with a spirit and temper which were doubt-less the result of his cheerful surroundings. He had the alert vigor of an American stock-broker. His brisk business-like air and the hospitality of his smile were suggestive of a transatlantic personality, even reaching to the lengths of a really instantaneous appreciation of a joke.
Some tattered flags were suspended over a chan-try in the choir. As the little verger appeared to have forgotten their existence, Boston asked their history.
” Oh,” he replied, with a quick, soft little laugh, ” I was n’t goin’ to mention ‘um, sir ; ” then after a pause, filled up with another laugh, ” since they was to commemorate our victories in the War of 1812.”
” We don’t mind your little victories,” said Boston, quietly ; ” but we don’t see any flags of 1776.” Whereat the red-faced Britons composing our party smiled, but rather feebly, while the bustling little verger laughed outright.
The two chief features in our tour of inspection were the chapter-house and the cloisters. The former is a little model of elegance. Of a later date than the cathedral, it reproduces the era when French geometric tracery was most in vogue in England. Next in interest to the charms of refinement furnished by the light gracefulness of lines whose intersections are like harmonies in a musical accord, are the sculptures filling the vous-soirs and the spandrels of the arcades. These latter, even in their restored condition, brilliant as they are in modern paint, their decay having been helped out by the guessing of the modern chisel, still remain as among the most interesting of the specimens of early Gothic art. The sculptures under the windows within the chapter-house were the effort, also, of the chisel to substitute figures for the inspired pages of the Bible. Here the Creation, from the group of a very pre-Raphaelite Adam and Eve under a grotesque tree in the act of eating forbidden things, to the dramatic scene in which Moses is represented as striking the rock, is reproduced with remarkable truth and earnestness. The nationality of the sculptors is revealed in the fact that the vines in Noah’s vineyard are trained on trellises in the Italian fashion.’
All appearance of foreign influence is lost in turning into the cloisters. Here again the inspiration of the true English genius reasserts itself. The style of these rich elaborate arcades, with their thickly clustered columns and the large trefoiled decorations in the unglazed windows, marks a later development of the Early English than that seen in the cathedral ; but the same grave severity of character is retained. Nothing more beautiful could be imagined than one’s walks around those quadrangular cloisters. The contrast of the long gray arcades and the graceful ornate windows with the smooth green cloister-garth, the patches of blue sky framed in the trefoil openings, and the dark shade cast on the greensward by two fine cedars, the sole inhabitants of this marble airy palace, form one of the most beautiful combinations conceivable of the delicacy of art and the refinement of nature.
The Englishman is never more an artist than when to noble architectural effects he adds the delicate yet perfecting note of a rural surrounding. Even the Italian may learn from him in this. The Italian, having been born of a prodigal mother, leaves too much to chance in his arrangement of natural effects ; but the Briton has a master touch in the grouping of trees and in the laying out of a sward. He knows that as art lives by contrasts, so a great and beautiful edifice gains by the same subtle law. Who but an Englishman would have had the daring not only to group those low ecclesiastical buildings in the close so near to the magnificent cathedral, with its dwarfing spire and mountainous roof, but also to place about the green those charmingly lovely Elizabethan and Queen Anne houses, whose red gables and brown and gray roofs delight the eye with their broken irregular perspectives ; whose ivied walls, trellised windows, and tiny blooming window-panes, with their suggestion of sweet domestic uses and of home-life, blend in perfect accord with the noble temple yonder, built for a great people’s prayers ?
The Englishman, whose home is his shrine, brings it to his church’s altar, that it may rest within its bosom and blessing; and thus the cathedral, in the midst of these blooming homes, stands like some antique temple on whose steps garlands have been strewn.