THE little city was under the spell. It lay folded, entranced, in the garment of warm white light. The houses did not seem quite real, as we passed them, wrapped in that soft mellow radiance. The stillness made the dream more vivid. The silent, white little city neither moved nor stirred as we drove through its sleeping streets.
Suddenly there came the flare of lamp and candle light to make broad streaks of dull yellow on the white paving-stones. It was the light from our inn.
A woman’s figure, leaning against the door jamb, started forward as we drove up. When Ballad was brought to a halt, she was at our side to greet us with a smile and a soft ” Good-evening.” She was our landlady. She was a young woman, but she was in widow’s weeds ; and her sombre draperies and dazzling white cap gave to her comeliness a look of distinction. It was only in keeping with the hour and the night, we said, that we should be received by a pretty, sentimental landlady, with a taste for moonlight revery. Her romantic turn, however, did not seem to have been allowed to interfere with a very decided genius for affairs. The inn was like wax ; and our supper was quite a little banquet.
“Do you know that any woman who can keep one eye on her servants and the other on the moon is a being for whom I have a profound respect?” I announced to Boston, as we unfolded our snowy napkins.
” Would you mind my making it a trifle warmer than respect ? I feel a positive affection for her just now. This is the best bouillon I have tasted on English soil,” he replied.
In spite of its excellence we both felt we were eating the meal in more or less of a trance. For the windows were open, and the warm night air, like the soft flutter of a bird’s wing, caressed our cheeks. We were so close to the street that the little garden belonging to the inn, across the way, sent a cloud of perfume into the chamber. We could see the tiny fountain splashing in the moonlight, a thread of diamond dewdrops glistening in the white night. On the bench near it some people were seated ; their voices stole up to us in pleasant, drowsy murmurs. But beyond it all, beyond the garden and the fountain and the trees, rose a wondrous sight. It was the cathedral, looming up to heaven, cut in solid silver against the sky.
” Come, let us go,” I cried, pushing the table aside. ” This is no time for eating or for swinish slumber. We’ll make a night of it.”
The figure leaning pensively against the inn door was still there as we passed out, looking unaffectedly up at the moon. This time it did not move ; but it spoke in the soft, clear English voice,
” It ‘s a beautiful night, is it not ? Wells is so pretty by moonlight ! Shall you be going to the cathedral ?” A white hand pointed the way. ” And be sure to see the moat, beyond the gate-way, yonder. It ‘s most lovely to-night.”
” She ‘s as perfect as if she ‘d been made to order, for us and the night,” exclaimed Boston, in what for him was a tone of rapture.
The low eaves of the houses made a black shadow for us to walk in. Then came a great gateway, a long high wall, within which, stretching out to the borders of some lofty trees, was the grassy cathedral close. It lay at the feet of the cathedral like a whitened shroud. The trees, with their lace-like foliage, made the only shadows that fell upon the transfigured lawn. The great façade of the cathedral rose into the sky like some fair and disembodied spirit ; it was as unreal as a phantom ghost. Its outlines seemed to float entranced in the mellow light. Then, as we came nearer, the vast and splendid surface resolved itself into shape and outline. The three low portals yawned like so many caverns. The columns bloomed like rounded limbs turned to the sun. The turrets soared aloft into the summer sky. But in spite of the bloom and the aerial lightness, there rested on the whole the spell of a statue-like sadness. A strange, quaint company covered that glowing surface. Earnest, saintly faces leaned out into the silver light. Under stone canopies, immobile as images of fate, stood the effigies of kings and martyrs. Apostles and tender women lifted upward adoring, pleading faces, blanched with celestial passion. Above, tier on tier of angels seemed to be ascending into glory. Truly, this was the ideal cathedral façade. It was an open Bible of Belief, imaged in stone.
Then the moon went under a light cloud ; and there was only a black mass in the eastern sky.
There was light enough, however, for us to thread our way towards the other gateway. As we passed beneath its high arch, we came face to face with two people, a man and a girl. As we made way for them to pass, I saw that their hands had been locked. She was so near that I could look into her eyes ; they glowed like two fiery stars. Was it the shadow of the white burnoose she wore over her head that had blanched her cheek to the same whiteness of passion we had seen on those silent faces yonder? As they neared the cathedral, they stopped. The great mass was still in the gloom ; but the light in the sky Tell upon the living figures. They stood for a moment, quite still, looking up at the stony faces ; then the man stooped and kissed her.
” I am glad he did. I could n’t bear to see them looking up at those rigid faces. It was like young love gazing at renunciation. Poor things ! I hope it is n’t a prophecy,” I said ; and we crept away beyond the arch, a trifle guiltily. ” Boston,” I could not help whispering, “I wish they had looked at us instead, and taken courage. We despaired, don’t you remember? and I had renunciatory moods ; but it’s been a great success, hasn’t it?”
No answer came ; but on the white flagging of the silent market-place a shadow etched itself in black. It was the shadow of two happy people clasped in the lock of love. It was the image of crowned and wedded bliss, the answer to that longing yonder, the longing of youth and hope and love. It was the answer of the flower to the bud.
Then came an hour in pure fairyland. The market-place, with its rows of silent-faced houses, was the last glimpse we had of the world, and its reminders of the realities of life. Was it, in truth, a real world at all, this that we had entered after passing beyond yonder stately gateway? There was a path, it is true, that wound in and out among noble trees; but to what, if not to a realm of pure romance, belonged that fair and shimmering sheet of water which girdled the rounded bastions of that fantastically garmented wall ? Beyond, in the misty distance, gleamed a vision of towers and turrets, the fairy palace of this fairy world. The walls were still stout and strong, but they were covered with trailing vines and studded with foliaged trees, a breast of steel hung with garlands. The drawbridge even in the dead of night was down; a host of pixies might have crossed it ; and, as if in answer to some unseen Lohengrin’s trumpet-call, a flock of kingly swans floated, serene and calm, over the silvered bosom of the waters. Their cries, answered by the ” Quack, quack ! ” of some ducks that formed their train, were the only sounds that took possession of the still, voiceless midnight. It was the myth of the Middle Ages come to life, apparelled in its matchless beauty and in the grandeur of its state.
The sweep of a hand across a guitar, just a liquid note or two from a human throat, and it would have been Italy instead of staid respectable England, that knew no better than to go to bed and sleep away such a matchless night, it would have been the house of the Capulets instead of the palace of a bishop. How Juliet’s round arm would have gleamed over the curve of yonder bastion, and what a mirror for the midnight of her eyes this glassy sheet, as Romeo climbed to her lips along that pliant ladder of vines ! As it was, two North American savages entered and took possession of the scene. Was it a presage of the future, a prophetic image of the dominance of our new race, this reflection of our motionless figures in the waters of the moat ? Were these the new heirs to the golden past, coming to take possession? Are we not, in truth, the rightful heirs to all this glory, this beauty of the past? For whom else if not for us lives this golden legend, the legend of history, of romance, of mediaevalism ? Sentiment and imagination help us to cross the filmy bridge. Once in that delectable land a new and wondrous strength to do, to dare, to create new castles fairer than the world has ever seen, to sing songs such as human throats did never utter, should be our longed-for prayer of inspiration.
Something of this rhapsody I ventured to breathe to Boston. He listened with exemplary patience to the end; then for all answer he bade me look at the reflection of my face in the still waters. The features were so ridiculously puffed out, so exaggerated and distorted, that I turned away with a laugh. It was the malicious, contemptuous re-tort of the Past to the presumption of the Present. I accepted the lesson in all humility.
It was high noon before we were awake to see what the city was like by daylight. We expected that the illusion of the night before would be gone with the moonlight, but we were forced to admit that the town held its own uncommonly well. The little garden across the street was a brilliant glow of color under the broad sunlight. It was so gay and bright a spectacle, indeed, that we were quite willing to exchange it for the spectral camping-ground of the sentimental ghosts of the night be-fore. The cathedral also had lost its shroud of mystery ; it rose into the fair summer sky in stately majesty and splendor.
All the same, in spite of its beauty, let us go about the town first, before making a tour of the cathedral. It’s too fine a morning to spend beneath stone aisles,” I said, as we strolled out.
” As you like, my dear,” Boston complied ; ” only, to-morrow, you know, we must be off. The cathedral, Murray warns us, is a city by itself. We must choose between it and the town. We have lost half a day already.”
” Lost half a day ! ” I burst forth. ” Would you barter last night’s midnight adventures for twenty ordinary days ? Why, if time were measured by sensations, as it should be, such a night would count as a whole decade.”
” By which method of calculation you would be about a thousand years old, with your talent for emotionalism,” was Boston’s chaffing retort. But in spite of the chaff, Boston, I could see, now that it was broad daylight, was more or less inclined to make light of the raptures of the previous evening. Man, even superior man, will never rise to the height of tolerating the indulgence of sentiment unless it leads to something, to marriage, for in-stance, or to verse-making which can command a marketable price.
Our stroll through the city proved it to be a compact little town. It could be held in the hollow of one’s hand, so to speak. The streets were lined by a fairish assortment of houses, old and new, those fronting on the market-place being the most pronouncedly picturesque. Here all the, life and movement a somewhat sluggish movement, at best focussed itself. The noble gateways, the walls enclosing the cathedral close and the bishop’s palace, the stately towers of the one and the turrets of the other, were a display of ecclesiastical splendor in marked contrast with the meagreness of the town. Wells is first and pre-eminently the bishop’s seat and the site of his cathedral. The city is an accidental growth about their ramparts, like the growth of barnacles on a rock.
One little street, however, charmed us into making a tour of discovery along its narrow side-walk. It had started bravely and fairly enough out from the market-place at right angles with our inn ; then we found it taking strange and capricious turns and windings. The houses, half of them, appeared too old and decrepit to follow its whimsical vagaries. Many of them had strayed into back alleys, and others had sunk dejectedly by the way. One house, however, had taken on new strength and courage. Its old face was unblushingly made up with fresh paint ; and its worn sign-board was offering, in a mosaic of blandishing pictures, a vista of enjoyment to the visitor who should venture within. It was a bric-à-brac shop.
We were ourselves suffering from a mild form of the mania. The fever had not been abated by the temptations which had assailed us at Salisbury, Winchester, and Bath. There was an air of conscious wealth and dignified reserve in the scanty but rare bits of tapestry, and the one or two old carven chests which filled these narrow windows, which there was no resisting. We must behold what lay beyond if it brought financial ruin.
An old man came forward to meet us as we entered. He wore a workingman’s blouse with a long faded blue apron ; their dull tone made an admirable background for his powerful face. The hair and flowing beard were as grizzled as a polar bear’s, and the face was seamed with deep wrinkles, the wrinkles of thought and care. But in his deep blue eye, as it met ours in a look of penetrating interrogation, there was an extraordinary light and power. It was the artist’s nervous, quickened eye, impressionable and perceptive. If his looks were remarkable, his manner was entirely commonplace. We wished to see some Chippendale chairs ? Yes, he had some, but he had forgotten just how much carving there was on them ; would we take the trouble to look at them ? They were’ in the other house. The house we were in, and of which we appeared to be making a more or less complete survey, would have furnished the delight and occupation of an entire day could we have consecrated it to such enjoyment. Trousseau-chests with rare Gothic carvings, Delft plate, Sheritan sideboards, fourteenth-century mantel-pieces towering to the ceiling, and admirable tapestries crowded each room through which we passed. They were as closely massed together as so much old rubbish. Then came an open courtyard, full of flower-pots and green with vines. The old house had been an inn for years past. He had bought it, our guide went on to explain, to hold all his ” stuff ” together. It had been scattered before in different shops. But even the inn was n’t big enough ; so he had bought the house adjoining. He proceeded to lead us to an upper loft. It was brilliantly lighted, and was filled with workmen. Old bits of tables, panels, and sideboards were standing about. Some of the men were busy polishing, mending, and repairing these ; but most of them were bending over new wood, carving industriously. They were copying the old models before them. And we had traced to their source the secrets of Wardour Street! We knew now how the new work was made to look so miraculously old.
The master of the shop stopped to glance over the shoulder of a workman near the door. Out of the block in his hand emerged a half-draped figure. He was putting the finishing touches to the head.
” You must cut the throat down ; it is too broad. Don’t you see how slender the figure is ? It ain’t a Amazon or a Bacchante ; it ‘s a Psyche.” The old man then took the knife, making one or two bold incisions. It was the stroke of a master. The throat now was as slender as a lily-stalk.
” The drapery over the knee ought to have some wrinkles in it ; one or two folds would take away that rigid look,” whispered Boston to me.
But the old man had heard him. He turned quickly with his wonderful eyes ablaze. ” Ah ! you know something about carving, then. You are an artist, sir ? ” he asked, with an entirely new manner,– a manner full of intensity and awakened interest.
” No, we are only art-lovers,” replied Boston, smiling.
” Come, then, I’ll show you something worth looking at. The chairs are in there ; but there ‘s plenty of time for them,” with a wave of dismissal as if Chippendales were of a very trifling order of interest. ” There are some carvings downstairs you will scarcely see beat anywhere, sir. They took the prize at the Exhibition, sir.”
He led us hurriedly, almost tremblingly, down the rickety stairs. We repassed the dark alleyways, the open sunlit court, the crowded stuffy rooms. Finally came a room, large, well lighted, with only two or three great pieces in them ; but each was a chef-d’oeuvre. One, a massive sideboard, was crowded with a wealth of figures in full relief.
” It’s a scene from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, sir. It’s the starting out from the Inn. It ‘s a fine subject, ain’t it, sir?and new, too. It won the prize.”
There was no need of a prize to stamp the great work as a masterpiece. The figures were instinct with life. The entire scene was treated with wonderful naturalness and feeling ; it was as animated as a living pageant.
Our praises brought a flush to the old man’s cheek.
” You’re very kind, my lady. I see you love art. Did I carve it all quite by myself ? Oh, dear, yes ! I have n’t no workman could deal with such figures. You see, sir,” and in his earnestness (the shop-keeper had long since been lost in the artist) “ in his earnestness the old man sat down beside us on a long carved settee and laid his work-worn hand on Boston’s arm, ” you see, wood-carving has made great progress in our day, but there’s only a few of us who really know the art. In the old days master and workman worked together, side by side. In our day it is boss and day-laborer. The boss must be overseer ; he ‘s too fine for dirty work. I’m boss, but I’m a work-man too, and so I get along. I ‘m teaching my men myself, but it ‘s slow work. They ain’t educated, to begin with, and it’s slow work teaching them mythology and how to handle their tools too. But it’ll come, it ’11 come, sir.”
It was beautiful to see the fire that lit the old eyes and the flame that touched the wrinkled brow. The bent form, the eager trembling hands, the grand old head with its patriarchal beard and its ardent young eyes, the immortally young eyes of the artist, how admirably the figure fitted into the background of the rich strong carvings and the delicate grays and greens of the old tapes-tries ! It was the art-spirit of the Middle Ages come to life, but to a life fettered, as is its period, with the shackles of a hoary antiquity.
We saw no Chippendale chairs that day ; but we had stumbled on genius, genius in carpet slippers and a blouse, but with a soul and a brow that had been kissed by the Muses.
I see now just what kind of men those old mediaeval workers must have been. They were dreadfully shaky in their grammar ; but they knew the poets and the old gods and the Bible as we know Shakspeare. That old man has recreated an entire period for me. I know those old workers now.”
” Yes, he was a study ; and he was as shrewd as a Yankee. He had no Chippendales ; he used them for purely strategic purposes. He meant us to buy his mantelpiece.”
But I desisted ; I remembered in time that it was long past the luncheon hour, and that no man, under the dominion of hunger, can be expected to be just.
We were to devote the rest of the day to the cathedral ; but just because it was an opposite neighbor, we indulged ourselves in making a little détour before entering it. Our feet involuntarily turned towards the moat and the bishop’s palace. As it turned out, this proved the true and most perfect plan of approach. To cross the close and enter through the western front is the common-place tourist’s method. To assault the bishop’s palace, and gain one’s first glimpse of the twilight interior, as the bishop himself does, through the garden and the cloisters, is to see the great cathedral in its full strength of beauty.
As the drawbridge was still down, I crossed it. I saw that it was held in its defenceless position by ropes of vines and chains of moss. But the massive door beyond still looked formidable enough to resist a stout siege. I began to attack it vigorously.
” What are you doing ? ” cried Boston, who had stayed behind to look at the walls and the waters of the moat.
” I want to see what a drawbridge is like, I never crossed one before, and also to see ”
But we had been discovered. One of the panels of the great door opened, and in its narrow frame the figure of a particularly attractive young woman defined itself. She smiled, as if she had expected us. The smile and her prettiness produced their instantaneous effect upon Boston. The electricity of a pretty woman’s glance is as yet the fastest known time made in the universe.
” We were told this was the way to the bishop’s palace,” said Boston, with his best bow, and with the unblushing mendacity men are capable of summoning on such occasions.
” You are quite right, sir. Visitors are admitted during the bishop’s absence. Will you please step this way ? ”
The way led us along a velvety lawn and past sunny and exquisitely trim gardens. We followed with alacrity; or, to speak with entire truthfulness, only one of us strictly followed. My companion might be said to be enjoying a personally con-ducted tour of inspection. For so great became Boston’s interest in our charming guide’s intelligent explanations of the ruined hall, the moat, the terrace, and the wells, that insensibly, doubtless, he found himself walking by her side ; and the paths were narrow (they always are when a man finds he must choose between two women). But, reader, I found it in my heart to forgive him. A man who could have remained indifferent under the soft spell of those brown eyes and that blooming complexion would remain unmoved before the spectacle of his wife in her best gown. One ought to be willing to pay the price for discriminating sensibility.
A bishop’s palace I had always imagined would be different from the dwelling, however regal, of any other earthly potentate; and for once the intuition was sustained by reality. We had seen no such collection of buildings as this in England. Perhaps no one, indeed, except a bishop would have dared to appropriate so much of earth, on his way to heaven, for purely domestic and festival purposes. The conception which possessed the ingenious and affluent imagination of Bishop Jocelin certainly proved him a colossus in magnitude and magnificence of design. No other group of buildings so triumphantly attest the grandeur of mediaeval ecclesiasticism. The cathedral, the chapter-house, the close, were in the original plan to be but a portion of the vast whole. The temporal side of a great bishop’s state was to be rep-resented by the adjacent palace, engarlanded by flower-beds, terraces, and lawns. The plan, one would have thought, might have satisfied the most exacting and luxurious of thirteenth-century bishops. But when the palace was completed it was found to be on too modest a scale for the next spiritual incumbent ; it was too small for occasions of state. Bishop Burnell thereupon in 1280, with the ease with which great lords in those days gratified a want or indulged a caprice, built him a great hall. The praise that it was the longest episcopal hall in England must have sounded sweet in his ears. Even the greatest of us have our little vanities.
The great banqueting-hall lies in ruins now. A portion of the walls is still standing ; but the wide vacant windows, with their suggestion of festival state, are as so many yawning graves. There is a touch of malice the old sculptors little dreamed they were carving, in the grotesque heads beneath the drip-stones. They surround the old ruin like a band of jeering demons, grinning as if with satanic glee over its decay and abandonment.
In blooming radiant contrast with this image of death, stands the palace. It is a gem-like little building. Its ancient portion is in a perfect state of preservation, and the modern additions have been made with admirable taste. Its gables, turrets, lancet and Tudor-mullioned windows, make an enchanting ensemble. It is as chastely draped as a goddess, with its flowing garment of vines and ivy. A glimpse was allowed us of the interior, of the gallery with its groined roof and richly carved doors, and of the vaulted lower story, formerly the old cellar and entrance, now restored and used as a dining room.
We strolled later on towards the terrace. It overlooked the moat. The afternoon sun lay warm and dazzling on the sparkling waters, on the ivy along the walls, on the great and noble trees within the park. The beauty of it all was very different from that of the night before ; but in full sunshine it was quite as much a region of pure enchantment. The views were as varied as they were surpassingly lovely. In the blue distance was Glastonbury Tor. Beyond the meadows, in the park, shone the jagged sides of Dulcot Hill. On the right, through the trees, the cathedral towers lifted themselves into the blue ether. On all sides the hills stretched away, surrounding the country and enclosing it, as the costly cathedral and the palace were enclosed by their own walls and ancient bastions ; it was a double fortification.
On our way back through the gardens towards the cloisters, we noticed innumerable wells or springs, lying unenclosed and bubbling with life. These wells were at once the glory and the origin of the city itself, our guide explained. It was the discovery and the prevalence of these natural springs which decided the medieval bishop to fix upon Wells as the seat of the diocese. The moat is still fed from St. Andrews,” the bottomless well,” the original great well of King Ine. It still rises close to the palace, and falls in a cascade into the moat. All the centuries have not run it dry. During the Middle Ages this well made the palace almost impregnable. Its continued abundance has preserved to modern eyes, in perfect preservation, an ideal picture of those earlier methods of war-fare. In our own day the well has felt the modern movement. It has adapted its resources to modern utilitarianism ; it turns several mills, besides serving to cleanse the city’s streets.
After the glare on the terrace, the damp sweet coolness along the garden paths that rimmed the bubbling springs was full of refreshment. The delicate sound of the bubbling waters and the dis-tant notes of the falling cascade made a delicious liquid harmony. No other music but that faint silvery tune would have fitted into the perfectly finished surroundings, or would have seemed in keeping with the domestic elegance of the gem-like palace, with the softened tragedy of the ruined hall, with the lovely scents and perfume of the white roses, the jessamine, the blooming vines, and above all, with the spiral loftiness of the cathedral towers. The melody of falling water is the most delicate of all sensuous sound, it is music with-out the voluptuousness of rhythm.
We gave ourselves up to its witchery and to the scene. We might stay as long as we liked, and walk about, our charming guide considerately said.
” For the cathedral, sir, you see is quite handy,” she added at leaving, as she lifted her dark eyes in farewell to Boston.
It was a novel view to take of so impressive a building, this of a cathedral being ” handy ; ” but doubtless she only unconsciously reflected the bishop’s own view of the edifice. In time very .probably his cathedral does come to assume the aspect of a personal belonging. Such was the attitude of the older holders of the See in the great Middle-Age days ; and why should not such a feeling be hereditary, along with the office and the duties ?
In whatever light the present bishop may view his noble temple, there can be no finer point from which to see it in its fullest beauty than from his own gardens. Subsequent experimental observations, taken at various other points, only served to confirm this first decision. First, through the trees you catch exquisite detached bits, the traceries of the windows in the Lady Chapel and the southern transept framed into the freer breeze-blown branches ; then the entire apsidal portion, together with a wonderful view of the whole south-ern side, transept, central and western towers, chapter-house, and Lady Chapel, rise in splendor above the tree-tops. From no other point is the cathedral at once so impressive as a whole and so supremely and astonishingly picturesque. With such a review of its great and stupendously lovely beauties, you are willing to accept Wells as Messrs. Fergusson and Freeman would have you, you are willing to declare it the most perfect and complete of all the English cathedrals.
Then, if you happen to be less of a critic and master of technicalities than these learned gentle-men, if you will persist in using your own eyes, even if they be but those of an audacious amateur, as you proceed on a more detailed tour of investigation you will awake to the surprise of discovering that you touched the climax of the cathedral’s grandeur in that first view. As you endeavor to spell out its various portions, you cannot avoid encountering two prodigious disappointments at the very outset. The frankness of full daylight will reveal the fact that the western front is a. failure, a positive, undeniable, and obtrusive failure. This is the more vexatious since it possesses in a high degree a distinct note of impressiveness. This impressiveness is due to the effect which so rich a multitude of statues must inevitably present. Such an array of serried saints and martyrs is as overwhelming as an army. But sculpture should be to architecture what acting is to the drama. It should be thought embodied in action. It must subordinate itself to the feeling it is meant to express. In this Wells façade the structural values are displaced. The architectural design is but a screen to serve as a background for the placing of the figures in position. The result is a want of depth and ear= nestness in the superficial architectural lines, which not even the dignity, the grace, and the irresistible simplicity of the sculptures themselves can supplement or efface. Added to this, is the note of discord contributed by the two western towers. Their unfinished tops, for all their refined and noble finish of detail, gives them a truncated appearance. They are but the torsos of towers.
The next shock of surprise comes from the first view of the nave, or, to speak more exactly, of the nave and the inverted arches at the intersection of the transepts. The nave itself is as completely lovely as a perfectly finished statue. It is in the very best style of the Early English period. The wonder is the greater that it should have been disfigured by these curiously incongruous inverted tower arches. As an ingenious and clever architectural plan for strengthening the supports of the great central tower, one can conceive of the project’s being admissible on paper ; but one is lost in horror at the thought of so monstrously ugly a conception being perpetuated in stone.
This fact once accepted, and the additional one that all perspective is rendered impossible, both by reason of the organ and the arches, and the remainder of the cathedral will be found almost unsurpassable, in point of beauty. Nowhere in the kingdom, perhaps nowhere in the world, will be seen such a combination of all the highest elements of architectural beauty as one finds in this Wells choir, in its exquisite Lady Chapel, its retro-choir, and in its adjoining chapter-house. Where find such varied yet harmonious symmetry of design, such spirited yet chastened originality, such elegance in proportion combined with such a wealth of elaboration in detail ? The choir, lofty, impressive, and gloriously lighted ; the Lady Chapel, of such extreme beauty as makes it the model production of the very best age ; the retro-choir, with its symmetrical arrangement of piers and clustered columns ; the chapter-house, reached by a flight of steps as beautiful as is the magnificent building to which it leads, surely such a collection of buildings under one roof is rare in any of the greatest building-ages. It is sufficiently rare in England to win one’s consent to the verdict of those who know, to a full and complete assent with their praise of Wells.
These gentlemen, besides their praise, will tell you that Wells was completed within a comparatively short period, which partly accounts for its perfections. There was, of course, an early Saxon cathedral which had fallen into decay. On its ruins rose, in the thirteenth century, the now existing nave, transepts, the central tower as high as the roof, and the west front. The apsidal portions, the choir, Lady Chapel, and chapter-house, were the work of subsequent bishops during the latter part of the thirteenth and in the beginning of the fourteenth century. It was never a monastery nor a conventual church, but was always held as a cathedral proper. The cloisters, in proof of this, are only an ornamental walk about the cemetery, not designed to serve as a part of a monastic enclosure.
Of all the bishops whose lives and careers are most closely identified with this bishopric of Bath and Wells, none so appeals to modern sympathies as does the blameless, courageous Bishop Ken. He owed his bishopric to the latter of these qualities, and also to a corresponding generosity rare in the make-up of kings. He it was who at Winchester had the courage to refuse to receive that fascinating little wanton Nell Gwynne, who had accompanied her royal lover on a visit to that city. When the bishopric of Bath and Wells became vacant shortly after, Charles II. proved himself even greater than this stout Christian. He rose to the height of forgiving an injury. ” Odd’s fist ! ” he cried to his courtiers, ” who shall have Bath and Wells but the little fellow who would not give poor Nellie a lodging ? ” And this “most holy and primitive of bishops” could thenceforth take his strolls on yonder lovely terrace, and feast his poet’s eyes on the loveliness of this goodly estate, until he was banished to Longleat ; for he fell with his benefactor. But the author of those poetic hymns, ” Morning, Evening, and Midnight,” and the picture which history perpetuates of his singing to his lute at sunrise, as was his daily custom, can never be truly banished from the memory of men, not, at least, so long as gentleness, high courage, and lofty piety are loved and reverenced on earth.